London Stansted Seeks Second Runway, Pitches Four-Strip Hub

London’s Stansted airport said it should play a key role in boosting U.K. flight capacity, either via the addition of a single-runway as part of a multi-airport plan or through its expansion into the country’s sole hub.

Adding one strip could lift annual capacity to 80 million passengers using a site northwest of the current runway or to 90 million by expanding east. A four-runway airport would be able to handle as many as 160 million travelers, owner Manchester Airports Group told a state commission on U.K. aviation policy.

Stansted is pitching growth plans after Heathrow airport said this week it should remain Britain’s sole hub and submitted three alternative proposals to add a third runway taking its capacity to 130 million passengers by 2025-29. Boris Johnson, London’s mayor, said earlier that an expanded Heathrow would be too noisy and that a new four-runway base should be established either at one of two sites in the Thames estuary or at Stansted.

“Developing new capacity at a number of airports is likely to be best for passengers,” MAG Chief Executive Officer Charlie Cornish said today in a statement. “Should the commission take a different view and conclude that the U.K. needs an effective hub to provide international connectivity, then Stansted could certainly fulfill that role in a cost-effective way.”

Less Costly

Expanding Stansted would impact fewer people than rival plans in terms of construction and jet noise, and cost less at about 10 billion pounds ($15 billion) in on-airport expenses even for the four-runway option, said MAG, which also owns Manchester Airport in northern England.

Johnson’s proposals for an estuary hub would cost about 50 billion pounds, including transport links, plus 15 billion pounds to purchase Heathrow, which he says should be turned into a new London borough. Heathrow has priced the addition of a third runway at no more than 18 billion pounds.

Proposals for boosting U.K. airport capacity are being submitted to the government-appointed Davies Commission by a deadline today.

Gatwick, London’s second-busiest airport, says it favors a “constellation” of airports ringing the capital rather than a one “megahub.” The world’s busiest single-runway site would get a second strip, as might Stansted, with Heathrow also retained.

Michael O’Leary, chief executive officer of Ryanair Holdings Plc, Europe’s biggest airline and the leading carrier at Stansted, said today that while there’s no reason Heathrow shouldn’t be expanded, it’s vital that other airports also grow.

“The only -- and best -- way forward is to gain additional runway capacity at each of the three existing airports,” O’Leary said in an interview on Bloomberg Television. “We are against just adding runways at one airport.”