Big debate: Airport expansion

With the government expected to make a decision on airport expansion this summer, we asked spokespeople from the UK's two leading airports why they should be chosen, as well as Jenny Bates, a Friends of the Earth campaigner

By National Geographic Traveller (UK)
Published 9 May 2016, 09:00 BST, Updated 7 Jul 2021, 13:14 BST
Heathrow Airport.

Heathrow Airport.

Photograph by Getty Images

Gatwick Airport

Why should London be the country's airport hub?
Gatwick doesn't support the concept of a single hub airport for the UK: concentrating too much traffic in a single airport is bad for the country. Instead, Gatwick supports a strong network of competing airports across the UK, so passengers can fly to long-haul destinations directly from their local airport and the growth offered by additional capacity is fairly distributed.

Why is Gatwick ideal for a second runway?
Gatwick expansion will generate the same number of passengers, flights and economic benefit as Heathrow, but at a lower cost to passengers, taxpayers and the environment. It's a solution that has none of the environmental hurdles that have stopped Heathrow expansion time and time again — no new airport would be built so close to such a large metropolitan population.

What about noise and air pollution?
Poor air quality has prevented Heathrow from expanding twice already. The air around the airport continues to breach legal levels today — and that's without a new runway. In contrast, Gatwick has never breached these legal limits, and its location means it never will, even with a second runway. Gatwick expansion would also impact less than 5% of the number of people Heathrow would with noise.

What's the economic benefit?
Under usual government methodology, expansion at either Heathrow or Gatwick would deliver broadly the same economic benefits to the UK. Crucially, only a second runway at Gatwick can actually be delivered and will ensure the economic benefits of expansion are actually realised.


Heathrow Airport

Why does the UK need another runway, and why should London be the national hub?
Analysis from the Airports Commission shows that expanded airport capacity is crucial for the UK's long-term prosperity. The report concluded that Heathrow is best-placed to provide the type of capacity most urgently required: long-haul destinations to new markets. We'd provide the greatest benefits for business passengers, freight operators and the wider economy.

Why is Heathrow best for an additional runway?
As the UK's only hub airport, Heathrow is a national asset and one of the best connected airports in the world. It's Britain's 'front door', and the gateway to long-haul destinations. At a time when the international competition for jobs and trade has never been more intense, an expanded Heathrow will keep Britain at the centre of the global economy.

What about noise and air pollution?
Our plans show that expansion is not a choice between the environment and the economy, as expansion at Heathrow will deliver for both. Analysis from the Airports Commission has shown that air quality would improve, while noise effects will reduce with expansion. As the Airports Commission described, 'An expanded Heathrow would be a better neighbour for local communities than the airport is today.'

What is the economic benefit?
Expansion at Heathrow would create 180,000 jobs and up to £211bn in economic benefits across the UK by 2050. Of the new jobs, over 100,000 would be outside of London and the South East and up to 40,000 jobs in the local area, including double the apprenticeships at Heathrow to total 10,000.


Jenny Bates, Friends of the Earth campaigner

Won't the country suffer economically if we don't increase airport capacity?
No. The push for airport expansion is artificially stimulated by tax breaks. If all environmental costs are included, the economics fade. A Frequent Flyer Levy to replace Air Passenger Duty could help — 15% of the UK population take 70% of flights; half of us don't fly at all in any given year.

Won't London become a business backwater without it?
No. London's five major airports serve more destinations than any other European city — over 360 with at least a weekly service.

What are your projections for noise and air pollution if it goes ahead?
Of people in Europe affected by aircraft noise, 28% live under Heathrow flight paths. A third runway at Heathrow would bring 250,000 more flights, up to 740,000, a year.The Airports Commission says air pollution would worsen — failing its own policy test.

Are there any other environmental issues?
If we expand, we make climate change worse. While the Airports Commission has recognised that the Committee on Climate Change has a cap on aviation emissions, it can't show how this could be met.

Published in the June 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)


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