Gatwick has reason to be cheerful after Airport Commission report

Phrases such as ‘lively competition’ and ‘low fares’ must have been music to the ears of Gatwick’s boss, Stewart Wingate

In the footballing analogy supplied by Manchester City fan Sir Howard Davies in the foreword to the interim report on providing additional capacity in south-east England, his Airports Commission’s work has reached half-time and, he says: “This is a game of two halves.” But the London mayor, Boris Johnson, seems to have wangled himself some extra time at the end of the first half, though the chances of a comeback for his team seem remote.

The mayor was quick to hail the fact that an estuary option had not entirely been ruled out. But Davies described this option as “imaginative” and very expensive, even if he kept it on the fringes of the shortlist.

Davies also rejected the chance to deny a claim, first published in the Guardian, that senior politicians lobbied to ensure he came up with more than a Heathrow-Gatwick shortlist, saying simply that  the shortlist had not changed since his meetings with George Osborne and David Cameron.

Given that context, the second half looks more or less like a straight shoot out between Heathrow and Gatwick. Heathrow is the airlines’ airport of choice, but expensive, and it subjects hundreds of thousands of people to its noise. Gatwick is a second on many counts now, but a runway could help even things up, at a lower social and financial cost.

The classic model, in the argument made by Heathrow authorities and Johnson, is that only a hub airport will serve the UK’s needs. A hub airport is one sufficiently large to allow for multiple connecting flights and passengers, factors that sustain other flights, particularly long-haul, to less popular destinations, keeping the nation connected and facilitating trade and investment with and from markets abroad.

It is argued though that this model is redundant, and that the real trend is growth in low-cost point-to-point travel. People taking this position might say that new technological developments allow planes to travel further economically with fewer passengers – potentially opening up low-cost long-haul flights.

Davies’s choice of language when unveiling the report to the press was revealing. He did not accept parts of the argument for a hub – an orthodoxy established by those whose interests it suited, he implied.

He explicitly rejected comparisons made regularly by Heathrow to European hubs, such as Frankfurt and Schiphol, Amsterdam, pointing out that London was different, a bigger city with far more destination traffic.

He prefaced his remarks on Gatwick by pointing out that a specific local agreement prohibiting construction had ruled it out of consideration the last time that new runways were considered, in 2003.

His mention of such phrases as “lively competition”, “low fares” and “a constellation” of airports must have been music to the ears of Gatwick’s head, Stewart Wingate.

The issue, Davies said, was now balance, not the hub or no-hub argument. It was an open question but “to put all your eggs in one basket and have one huge hub strikes us as quite risky”.

Gatwick has new reason to look forward to the second half. Yet Davies too is only part of the wider game – and history shows that the commission’s final recommendation far from guarantees that any runway is built. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Link to article:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.