Gatwick attacks ‘flawed’ Airports Commission report

The Commission recommended in July that a third runway is built at Heathrow despite concerns over air quality

The Airports Commission’s analysis of air quality issues at Heathrow “does not withstand scrutiny” and its conclusions are based on an “incorrect interpretation of the law”, Gatwick Airport claims.

Gatwick Airport is keen to build a second runway

Gatwick Airport is keen to build a second runway

Gatwick also believes that its own expansion would be less costly and more likely to be delivered with fewer hurdles in terms of environmental issues, planning and financing.

In a 50-page report issued by the Sussex airport yesterday (August 18), Gatwick launched a scathing attack on the Airports Commission’s “inconsistent and flawed” final recommendation to the government on July 1 that a third runway should be built at Heathrow, rather than at Gatwick.

The government has said it will respond to the Commission’s recommendation for increasing UK airport capacity later this year, but rival bidder Gatwick has been highly critical of Heathrow bid, in part because it says expansion in West London will negatively impact on local air quality.

The Airports Commission did say in its final report Heathrow expansion should only take place alongside a package of air quality mitigation measures and if there is a binding commitment that compliance with EU air quality limits will not be delayed (see story).

Currently, without taking any possible future Heathrow expansion into account, Defra does not expect London to comply with EU limits for nitrogen dioxide until at least 2030.

However, launching its 50-page attack yesterday, Gatwick Airport said the Airports Commission’s air quality analysis is “incomplete and inconsistent in several material ways and relies upon a notional Air Quality Plan that is yet undrafted and so cannot at present be assessed”.

It states:

“Air Quality has to be a key determinant of the location of any new runway. It is a vital consideration in view of its impact on human health, and it is an essential requirement that air quality does not breach legally binding limits.”

On the other hand, however, Gatwick commends the Commission’s analysis of its own bid for expansion: “The Commission’s analysis confirms Gatwick’s assessment that Gatwick’s new runway can be delivered without exceeding the legally binding air quality limits.”

The report also highlights the lower impact of noise expected from expanding Gatwick in comparison to Heathrow expansion.

Other criticisms

Other criticisms levelled at the Airports Commission’s final report by Gatwick include “several fundamental assumptions that dramatically underplay traffic at Gatwick and overplay predictions for Heathrow”. These, it claims, are:

  • expecting Gatwick to reach 40 million passengers in 2024, whereas the airport itself claims it will reach that number this year
  • estimating that Gatwick will generate only two million passengers in the first year of operating with a second runway, while Gatwick claims that it grew by 2.7 million passengers last year with a single runway
  • predicting that, after five years with a second runway, Gatwick will have an additional eight million passengers — less than it assumes Heathrow would have after one year with a third runway
  • between 2025 —2030 Heathrow is assumed to grow by 36 million passengers compared to only 9 million at Gatwick

Chief executive of Gatwick, Stewart Wingate, said: “We expected a well-considered examination of all options, but instead the final report contains so many omissions and basic errors that its reliability as the basis of aviation policy must be called into question. The findings of this report simply do not add up.

He added: “I remain confident that when all the risks and benefits are properly considered, Gatwick will still represent the best option for UK airport expansion.”

An Airports Commission spokesperson said:

“The evidence in the final report was subject to extensive analysis and consultation and we are confident that it is fit for purpose.”

Related Links:

-Gatwick Airport report: ‘Airports Commission Final Report – Areas of Concern’


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