Gatwick may have lost the formal fight for London’s new runway, but the long time busiest single runway airport has now initiated a planning process to use its existing northern runway

30 August, 2019

For years, London Gatwick was the world's busiest single runway airport, last year handling over 46 million passengers. That position changed mid-way through the latest decade when Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International airport in Mumbai grew larger, but Gatwick still handles more aircraft and passengers per runway than London's larger Heathrow hub.

Gatwick revealed earlier this summer that it plans to prepare a development consent order (DCO) to bring its 'standby runway' into routine use. The process will include a public consultation process seeking feedback from local authorities, communities, businesses and partners. It added work will be carried out to ensure environmental impacts are "appropriately managed and mitigated".

The 'standby runway' is something of a misnomer. For all the talk during the Airport Commission's deliberations over an additional runway in southeast England (a third at Heathrow or a second at Gatwick, which was Plan B) there always was a 'second' one at Gatwick, even though it operated as a single-runway facility.

Gatwick has this week now confirmed its intent to start preparing a planning application to the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) to prepare the DCO. This action establishes the 'Gatwick Airport Northern Runway' project on the PINS website and is the first step in the DCO application process. Next month, the airport will submit a 'Scoping Request' to PINS, which sets out the proposed approach and key issues to be included within the process.

The application is to bring the existing northern 'standby' runway into routine use alongside the main runway by the mid-2020s, but just for smaller, departing aircraft. "This project has the capacity to offer significant local economic benefits, new jobs and an exciting future for the region," says Tim Norwood, the airport's chief planning officer.

The first stages in the DCO process involve Gatwick carrying out surveys and preparing detailed environmental information on the northern runway plans later this year. A public consultation will be held next year, after which further updates to the plans will be incorporated. An application for development consent will then be made to PINS, who will examine the application and provide a recommendation to the Secretary of State, who will then make the final decision.

Gatwick's main southern runway and standby northern runway are adjacent to one another by just 200m apart and that is what has restricted them from taking simultaneous arrivals and departures. However, with planning approval and scheduling they can be used to introduce additional capacity into the airport system.

Currently, the northern runway (08L/26R) can only be used when the main runway (08R/26L) is out of use for any reason. Compared to the main runway, which has a Take-off Run Available (TORA) of 3,255 m when aircraft take off in a westerly direction and 3,159 m when take-offs occur in an easterly direction, the TORA for the northern runway is 2,565 m in both directions.

Gatwick has witnessed strong traffic growth through the 2010s thanks to growing point-to-point LCC operations in the short-haul, and increasingly in the long-haul market. While capacity constraints continue to limit the number of usable slots at Heathrow, Gatwick has seen increasing demand from airlines.

Traffic at Gatwick has grown from 31.3 million passengers in 2010 to almost 46.1 million last year with year-on-year rises of above +5% recorded in 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2016. Levels slipped to +1.1% in 2018, but are up to +2.7% for the first half of 2019.

CHART - The North Atlantic is one area where increased connectivity has buoyed passenger demand at London GatwickSource: CAPA - Centre for Aviation and OAG