New Gatwick owners would like more runways, please

Posted by jamie — 22 October 2009 at 2:28pm - Comments

Gatwick will shortly have a new owner. BAA is selling the airport for much less than it originally hoped in order to reduce the company's debt. But the new owners have already indicated they intend to expand Gatwick as soon as possible, including a new second runway.

Global Infrastructure Partners, which has paid much less than BAA wanted, want to give Gatwick a major make-over, including a second runway. An injunction prevents them from doing this until 2019 at the earliest, but GIP has suggested it will get planning applications sorted so a new runway could be built as soon as possible.

Gatwick is already the largest single runway airport in the world and according to the Times, BAA sweetened the deal with figures showing that double the tarmac could boost passenger numbers from 45 million to 80 million a year. By comparison, 67 million used Heathrow last year.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson continues to push for his floating airport out in the Thames Estuary. A new report has apparently given the thumbs-up in terms of technical feasibility and now Sir David King is on board to do a more comprehensive study. This is the same Sir David who last year called a third runway at Heathrow "investments in new runways will turn out to be white elephants".

It's interesting that the plans include a high-speed rail link from Boris Island to Europe through the Channel Tunnel. This would, of course, reduce the need for short-haul flights. But as the stated aim of this floating runway is to reduce congestion at Heathrow, that's very twisted logic. Replacing short-haul with rail blows the case for a third runway to smithereens, so it's not going to lend the case for a new airport a helping hand.

Enthusiasm for the third runway may be going off the boil, but these two developments show that the desire to keep expanding airports at whatever cost burns brightly in the hearts of politicians and the aviation industry. It's always worth repeating that it's the total amount of emissions which determines aviations impact on the climate, not which airport they originate from. Shifting them around the country isn't going to work.

You've also got to wonder why the EU has just agreed to give both aviation and shipping different yardsticks by which to reduce their emissions. Meeting in Luxembourg to agree the targets to push for at Copenhagen, they would like to see cuts in both industries measured against 2005 levels. Which is odd to say the least, every other sector will have to cut emissions based on 1990 levels, and it will cost them to do so. Yet again, aviation gets special treatment.

EU heads of state can still improve on this at their meeting next week, but singling aviation out for special treatment in global negotiations isn't going to dispel the idea that we can expand air travel while sorting out climate change at the same time. The sums just don't add up.

About Jamie

I'm a forests campaigner working mainly on Indonesia. My personal mumblings can be found @shrinkydinky.

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