London's Gatwick revives plan to open up emergency runway

The airport is the second-busiest in the world still using just the one runway. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - Gatwick Airport will revive plans to bring its second, emergency runway into full-time use in a controversial expansion of the London hub.

The airport, owned by France's Vinci, is the second-busiest in the world still using just the one runway.

Its growth plans, previously blocked by the UK government, could add about 18,400 jobs by 2038, chief executive Stewart Wingate told reporters on Wednesday (Aug 25).

Gatwick faces objections from environmental groups and local residents about the additional noise and pollution, and will run a 12-week public consultation until the start of December.

It will also have to consider the uncertainty surrounding the recovery in air travel from the Covid-19 pandemic, which led International Airlines Group's British Airways and Virgin Atlantic Airways to move flights to larger rival Heathrow.

Gatwick, located in countryside south of London, mainly caters for discount carriers, with EasyJet operating about 45 per cent of flights prior to the outbreak.

"We expect to be back at pre-pandemic traffic levels in 2025 or 2026," said Wingate. "There is a requirement to bring forward growth plans. We have to go through the planning process, then the procurement process and finally the construction process."

Gatwick is resurrecting the proposal even after the UK in 2016 endorsed Heathrow as the best candidate for growth.

The hub in west London, Europe's busiest before the pandemic, has long planned to build a third runway, but the proposal is in limbo following a court ruling last year that the government failed to take full account of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Gatwick's project requires minimal changes to airspace and will reduce taxi and airborne wait times, said the hub's development director Bronwen Jones.

It aims to get government approval in 2024 and start using the strip in 2029, Wingate said. "We're very confident that these proposals will stand up to scrutiny," said the CEO.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.