U.K. Airports Review Seeks Quick Narrowing of London Hub Options

The U.K. government commission exploring the future of London Heathrow, Europe’s busiest hub, said it’s pressing ahead to narrow options on how to develop the airport infrastructure around the U.K. capital.

“We need to move quickly to winnow down the options and reduce uncertainty for potentially affected communities,” Howard Davies, chairman of the Airports Commission, said in a statement today as the group published submissions it has received on how to evolve capacity in southeast England.

The commission has received 48 proposals as Boris Johnson, the city’s mayor, favors development of Stansted airport to the north or a completely new base in the Thames estuary costing 65 billion pounds ($100 billion). Heathrow has proposed adding a third runway by 2025-29 for as much as 18 billion pounds.

“The proposals that we have received and that we have published today demonstrate imaginative and thoughtful responses to the challenges that the Airports Commission has been set but also show clearly the wide spectrum of views that exist on these issues,” Davies said.

An interim report from the panel is due later this year, with the final document slated to be published in 2015. The public has until Sept. 27 to comment on the proposals.

Submissions run from Johnson’s plan to shutter Heathrow in favor of another site to adding no additional runways and linking the current five airports surrounding the city with a high-speed train to create an interconnected hub.

Short-Term Plans

London Gatwick, Europe’s busiest single-runway airport, is advocating expansion and told the commission it could deliver the added capacity for as little as 5 billion pounds. Global Infrastructure Partners Ltd., which acquired the site in 2009 after U.K. regulators ordered a breakup of Heathrow owner BAA Ltd., said July 23 it favored a “constellation” of airports ringing London rather than one hub maximizing inter-continental connections.

Stansted airport could lift annual capacity to 90 million passengers with the addition of one runway, or to 160 million travelers with a four-runway layout, owner Manchester Airports Group said last month.

In addition to long-term plans, the commission is exploring measures that could be taken in earlier, some within 5 years, to alleviate constraints.

The 65 submissions for such steps range from changing operating rules now in place at Heathrow to enable more departures and arrivals to raising the U.K.’s air passenger duty to curb demand for flights.

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