Airport capacity in the UK

Your opinion at the start - stage 1/6

Airport expansion has been in and out of the news for decades. In the 1960s, the Roskill Commission attracted great attention as it tried to work out where a third London airport should go. Its recommendation of Cublington was ultimately rejected. There followed decades of proposals (including various ideas involving the Thames estuary), white papers and government undertakings.

Read background

Writing and research: Nicole Badstuber and Tom Cohen, UCL Transport Institute. Reviewer: Perry Walker.

Drag these using the hand symbol () so that they are in order, most preferred at the top

  • Expand Heathrow
  • Build a new airport in the Thames Estuary
  • Expand Gatwick
  • Avoid the need for new capacity through efficiencies and targeted pricing
  • Avoid the need for new capacity by encouraging people to travel without flying

Background

History

Airport expansion has been in and out of the news for decades. In the 1960s, the Roskill Commission attracted great attention as it tried to work out where a third London airport should go. Its recommendation of Cublington was ultimately rejected. There followed decades of proposals (including various ideas involving the Thames estuary), white papers and government undertakings.

Most recently, in its programme for government, in 2010 the coalition government ruled out expansion at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. But this decision was immediately attacked, on grounds of growth in demand for aviation and projections that suggested it will continue.

The Airports Commission

In order to progress thinking concerning provision for aviation in the UK, in September 2012 the transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, appointed Sir Howard Davies to chair the Airports Commission. According to its terms of reference, the Commission “will examine the scale and timing of any requirement for additional capacity to maintain the UK’s position as Europe’s most important aviation hub, and it will identify and evaluate how any need for additional capacity should be met in the short, medium and long term.”

The Commission was set two key deadlines:

Interim report: to be submitted by the end of 2013 (actually published 17th December), identifying and recommending options for maintaining the UK’s status as an international hub for aviation and immediate actions to improve the use of existing runway capacity in the next five years

Final report: to be submitted to the government by summer 2015, assessing the environmental, economic and social costs and benefits of various solutions to increase airport capacity – considering operational, commercial and technical viability

In its interim report, the Commission set out a short-list of three expansion options that it would consider in detail:

* An additional runway at Gatwick

* An additional runway at Heathrow

* The extension of one of the existing runways at Heathrow

An airport in the Thames estuary – “Boris Island”

The Commission reported in addition that, though the Thames Estuary airport options (such as that promoted by the Mayor of London) had not been short-listed, it would carry out additional analysis during 2014. In September 2014, the Commission announced its decision not to add the inner Thames estuary airport proposal to its shortlist of options. This means that it cannot now feature in the Commission’s final recommendations to government.

The aviation debate

It is easy to characterise the debate as being economy (in favour of expansion) versus environment (against expansion), but this is simplistic. The pro-expansion position includes a civil liberties element and reflects arguments about both the economies immediately surrounding airports and the UK economy as a whole. Those who oppose expansion often talk about climate change but also raise a range of arguments relating to local environment and quality of life, including both the effect of new construction on homes, biodiversity etc and the noise impact of additional flights.

It is important to note that the Commission’s terms of reference require it to pursue a particular outcome – the maintenance of the UK’s dominance in European aviation – which naturally influences the way it has approached its work and the appraisal framework it is using to consider options.

And there is more than one kind of airport: much of the current lobbying by Heathrow and Gatwick is driven by arguments that favour either hub-type provision (connecting a great number of directions by facilitating easy interchange) or point-to-point provision (where South-East England is either the origin or destination of the vast majority of trips made by plane).

Despite the Airports Commission’s UK-wide focus, this exercise is addressing the question of airport capacity in the south-east, on the basis that there is spare capacity elsewhere in the UK. In fact, one of the options,Avoid the need for new capacity through efficiencies and targeted pricing, would involve attempts to shift some of the demand to airports that have spare capacity. As for an airport in the Thames estuary, this is retained as an option despite being rejected by the Commission, because its keenest supporters have vowed to continue campaigning for it.

Further reading

Airports Commission

Home page - https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/airports-commission

Terms of reference - https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/airports-commission/about/terms-of-reference

Interim report (and supporting documentation) - https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/airports-commission-interim-report

Appraisal framework - https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/300223/airports-commission-appraisal-framework.pdf

Heathrow

Taking Britain further - Heathrow’s plan for connecting the UK to growth (Summary) - http://your.heathrow.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Taking-Britain-Further-Summary-Pages-200dpi_easyread.pdf

Gatwick

Connecting Britain to the Future. Faster (Summary) -http://www.gatwickobviously.com/sites/default/files/downloads/connecting_britain_to_the_future._faster.pdf

Thames Estuary Airport

A new airport for London (Part 2) - https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/Anewairportforlondon_part2.pdf

High-speed rail and demand for flying

Impacts of high-speed rail and low-cost carriers on European air traffic (paper to the European Transport Conference by R Clewlow) - http://abstracts.aetransport.org/paper/index/id/3705/confid/17

Demand management

Predict and decide – aviation, climate change and UK policy (report by S Cairns and C Newson to the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford) - http://www.eci.ox.ac.uk/research/energy/predictanddecide.php