The generations-long fuss about expanding London's airport capacity may be about to take a new turn south, as perennial second option Gatwick could soon trump rival Heathrow's expansion plans by bringing a second runway online before Heathrow's new strip is completed.
Gatwick has always had two runways, although its second one is saved for occasional and emergency use as a standby only. An agreement to restrict the airport to only running flights on one runway at a time, put in place when planning permission was granted in 1979, comes to an end in 2019; so if a relatively modest amount of money can be found – around £500m, which is tip jar money in airport-building circles – Gatwick could enhance its capacity quite rapidly by simply widening its spare strip.
The airport's new Masterplan [PDF] for the future says this move would see its passenger numbers grow from 45.7m this year to as many as 70m by 2033, all of which could be done almost entirely using land within the airport's current footprint, so no trees would have to be cut down and no one's garden would be compulsory purchased.
This, however, is not the same plan that saw the airport battle Heathrow for the right to build an entirely new runway. Gatwick has now mothballed that idea seeing as Heathrow won approval there, although the smaller airport still hopes that future governments may revive the £7.6bn option of building an all-new, bigger and fancier landing strip on Gatwick's south side. [Gatwick [PDF] via Guardian]