The U.K. needs more runways in the southeast of England to avoid the risk of “suboptimal” travel conditions, Airports Commission Chairman Howard Davies said.
“Our provisional conclusion is that we need some net additional runway capacity in the southeast of England,” Davies said in a speech today. Expanding regional airports and boosting the average load factor of jets arriving at London’s existing bases will not be enough to ease a capacity crunch, he said.
Flight capacity is squeezed at London’s airports, with Gatwick and Heathrow close to full, while Mayor Boris Johnson has pledged to block any expansion in favor of a new hub in the River Thames estuary. The state-appointed Airport Commission is considering 58 proposals, ranging from runway extensions to developing green-field sites and aims to release an interim report in December, with a final report in 2015, Davies said.
Heathrow Airport Ltd., the hub’s owner, submitted three plans to the commission, each capable of delivering extra flights by 2025-29 at a cost of 14 billion pounds ($22.5 billion) to 18 billion pounds. The proposals would boost the number of people using the hub to 123 million to 130 million from 80 million today.
Johnson has proposed shuttering Heathrow completely and turning Stansted Airport to the north of the capital into a hub or developing a completely new base costing 65 billion pounds. The 1,220-hectare (3,000 acre) Heathrow site could be used to build 100,000 homes for as many as 250,000 people.
Gatwick, the world’s busiest single-runway airport, has identified three alternatives for building a new landing strip to the south of the existing one by 2025. The airport said in July that it could add a second runway for as little as 5 billion pounds, eliminating the need for a single U.K. hub.
“I very much hope we could produce one option, which seems to us to be the best, the former Financial Services Authority chief said. None of the options has been ruled out and the panel is also considering ideas that were not submitted to them like connecting Heathrow and Gatwick with a high-speed rail link, he said.