A second runway at Gatwick is a “non-starter” if a third runway is built at Heathrow, according to Sir Howard Davies, chairman of the Airports Commission.
On July 1, following a 30-month inquiry, the commission recommended the government allow a third runway at Heathrow.
Appearing before the economic affairs committee of the House of Lords last week, Davies said: “I don’t believe it would be possible to get funding for a second Gatwick runway unless Heathrow [capacity] is constrained.”
He dismissed the idea that one of the major airline alliances would move to Gatwick if it got a new runway ahead of Heathrow, saying: “I cannot tell you how adamant the airline alliances are that they would not move.”
Davies insisted: “It is very difficult to conceive that could happen.” But he conceded a third runway at Heathrow could see Gatwick lose services. Davies said: “It’s conceivable some flights would move from Gatwick to Heathrow. Gatwick may fear that. But it’s more likely that airlines would develop their networks.”
When one committee member asked why not allow new runways at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted and “let the market decide”, Davies said: “I don’t believe three runways make any sense. Stansted is not even half full.”
He added: “It would be difficult to meet our climate change objectives. You would have to close some regional airports or impose unsustainable climate change imperatives on the economy.”
Davies said leaving capacity to the market was the reason the UK was so short of it, since “private finance waits for demand”.
He said: “We’re the only country that believes airports should be financed privately, so it’s not surprising we have constrained capacity. Frankfurt has four runways when it really only needs two, because they were built with public money in advance of demand.”
He added: “I don’t believe two or three runways would be delivered.”
Davies also ruled out a fourth runway at Heathrow, saying: “If you could afford another runway within the [UK’s] environmental objectives, you would almost certainly want to put it somewhere else.
“But I don’t believe there is demand for it. I cannot see the circumstances in which you would want another runway at Heathrow.”
SIR HOWARD DAVIES ON…
Attitudes of people around Heathrow: “Views are much more nuanced than it appears from the public debate. Everyone agrees that they don’t want Heathrow to close.”
Why the commission took so long: “The government didn’t want a response until after the election. My aim was to use the time so it didn’t slow the project. The government has an oven-ready proposal.”
Regional airports: “We looked at other airports. The options are not great. Most regional airports want access to Heathrow. We should ensure some additional capacity goes to develop more regional links.”
When a third Heathrow runway could open: “2026 is realistic if the government makes a decision this year.”
Fares from Heathrow: “Opening up Heathrow would produce lower fares. EasyJet said it will put 20 aircraft in if Heathrow is expanded – Heathrow’s yield is higher than at Gatwick’s.”
Environmental objections: “You could allow one new runway in light of climate change commitments.”
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