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The surprise decision by Gatwick’s biggest carrier easyJet to back expansion at Heathrow was followed by a weekend report suggesting there was “zero” chance of the west London hub opening a planned new runway on time.
The UK’s largest budget airline said in a submission to the Airports Commission that expanding Heathrow would provide greater passenger and economic benefits.
The carrier said Heathrow expansion was in the "best interests" of passengers despite Gatwick bidding for a second runway.
EasyJet argued expanding Gatwick would lead to a "significant increase" in airport charges and that would mean higher fares for passengers.
Chief executive Carolyn McCall said: "Heathrow is in the best interests of passengers as it has the greatest demand.
"By comparison, the Gatwick proposal requires a significant increase in airport charges.
"This would inevitably lead to higher fares for Gatwick's passengers, the vast majority of whom are flying for leisure.
“It is clear that long-haul airlines want to expand at Heathrow and if they can’t, they will do so not at Gatwick but at other airports such as Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt.”
Potential easyJet flights from Heathrow would serve 19 new routes from the airport and lower fares, the airline said, adding that its tickets are typically 40% cheaper than those of incumbent airlines.
These include domestic routes which have fallen off the Heathrow network, such as Inverness, Isle of Man and Jersey, which at present require a transfer at another airport. Most of the other routes would go to destinations around the Mediterranean.
A Gatwick spokesman described easyJet's position as bring based on its own "narrow commercial interests" adding that "Gatwick can deliver its second runway without the massive environmental damage which has stopped Heathrow expansion time and time again".
The comments came ahead of a report by transport consultancy EC Harris and commissioned by Gatwick which claims Heathrow has been overly ambitious with its construction and planning timetable for a new runway.
The Sunday Times quoted the report to the sent to the Aviation Commission this week as saying: “There are compelling reasons to doubt whether a new third runway at Heathrow can be delivered at all ... There is zero probability of achieving the stated 2025 opening date. The earliest date [it] could be realistically opened is 2029.”
The consultant also says Heathrow has underestimated the cost by up to £5.6 billion because of likely delays and a failure to include the cost of expanding existing terminals to cope with new demand.
Delays are likely because of having to deal with landfill sites near Heathrow, the need to work on “several fronts at the same time” bringing disruption to locals, and the need to relocate some services, including a large waste-to-energy power plant.
Heathrow dismissed EC Harris conclusions, saying: “We are comfortable with our costs and timetables. Heathrow is one of the most experienced builders of infrastructure in Britain, having delivered two new terminals on time and to budget.”
It is expected to make its own criticism of Gatwick’s second runway plan this week with an attack on its costs and limited road and rail links.
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