Gatwick airport will push ahead with plans for a £500 million second runway after the scheme passed a significant legal hurdle.
Britain’s second-busiest airport is expected to submit detailed proposals for 50,000 extra flights a year as part of its recovery from the crisis posed by the coronavirus.
It wants to bring its existing standby runway — which is only used in emergencies when the main runway is closed — into full operation.
Yesterday, it emerged that the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has ruled that the plan will not require changes to the airspace around Gatwick which had threatened to pose a significant barrier.
In a written judgment, the watchdog said that there would be no change to the design of flight paths in or out of the West Sussex airport as a direct result of the new runway, adding: “The environmental impact relating to this proposal is assessed as nil.”
Gatwick — the busiest single-runway airport in the world — had been expected to proceed with the application in the first half of this year but has put it on hold because of the pandemic.
The airport has been hit hard by the outbreak, with the number of flights down by more than 98 per cent last week compared with a year earlier. Last week, British Airways said that it could pull out of Gatwick altogether while Virgin Atlantic announced a similar plan yesterday as it revealed proposals to make a third of staff redundant.
However, Gatwick said that the second runway still formed part of its long-term recovery from the crisis, with an application for a development consent order expected to be made in the second half of this year or in 2021.
Gatwick’s existing second runway is only used in emergencies. Under rules set out by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the centreline of parallel runways must be at least 210 metres apart. The gap between Gatwick’s main and standby runway is 198 metres.
Under its plan, it would shift the runway 12m to the north. New taxiways to and from the runways and additional stands would also be created. The new runway would be used only for take-off by short-haul planes, with all landings still taking place on the main tarmac.
Any demand to redraw airspace around Gatwick would have required an extensive review process. However, the CAA was satisfied that planes departing from the new runway will join existing flight paths soon after take-off, making little change to the airport’s noise footprint.
The CAA is clear that its decision does not constitute the green light to the second runway, which still has to undergo a major planning process.
The report added: “This proposal is one element which facilitates a potential move towards dual runway operations being a possibility in the future; it does not authorise them.”
In a statement, Gatwick said: “Gatwick welcomes the CAA’s decision relating to the level of airspace change required in relation to our proposed plans to bring our existing northern runway into routine use. We will continue to work on preparing a planning application, known as a development consent order, which will be the subject of full public consultation at a later date.”
Gatwick lost out on the chance to build a new runway four years ago when the government opted to approve the expansion of Heathrow.
However, in February the Court of Appeal overruled the government’s decision following claims that it failed to take account of Britain’s climate change commitments.
Gatwick insisted that the ruling had no bearing on its own plans to bring the emergency runway into operational use.
Comment by the campaign group “Gatwick Obviously NOT”:
The overarching concern
It turns out that the decision the CAA published yesterday was a narrow and technical one, and, for the reasons set out below, not a significant one. But it conceals a range of important wider issues, such as why the country’s airspace regulator appears to have no role to play in the expansion of a major airport and the possibility of 50,000 extra flights each year with huge environmental and noise consequences. We will continue to pursue those points over the months ahead, in line with yesterday’s letter.
We note The Times has downgraded the CAA from “regulator” to “watchdog”.
The CAA decision, published yesterday, was that emergency runway ASCP did not require public consultation because, amongst other things, “…The environmental impact relating to this proposal is assessed as nil…” The Times stated that this meant the scheme had “…passed a significant legal hurdle…”
At first glance this is worrying. But it’s important to be clear what decision the CAA had to make and what it said.
The ASCP the CAA was responding to was a narrow technical one. Specifically it was that a document called the “Aeronautical Information Publication” (AIP) should be amended if and when Gatwick’s emergency runway is redeveloped. At the moment the AIP says that the emergency runway will only be used when the main runway is non-operational and that it cannot be used simultaneously with the main runway. If the emergency runway project goes ahead both those facts would be wrong and the AIP would have to be changed. The CAA decided that the amendment to the AIP in itself did not require consultation and would not have environmental impacts.
The CAA was clear that it was not consenting to the emergency runway redevelopment or to any increase the number of flights permitted (which under current law are matters for the planning process) but solely whether the AIP should be amended if the development received planning consent and was implemented. In this context we don’t think its decision is surprising.
The decision the CAA has taken is a technical and predictable one. It does not make development of the emergency runway any more likely. In that context, you may have seen Gatwick’s announcement that its traffic might return to recent levels within three to four years. That was before both Virgin and BA announced that they planned to leave Gatwick.
Our view is that there is now no case for additional capacity at Gatwick and that the regulator needs to engage properly with the insane threat of airport expansion.
May 6th 2020
Covid-19: Virgin Atlantic to cut 3,000 jobs and shut down Gatwick operations
Virgin Atlantic has announced it is to cut more than 3,000 jobs in the UK and end its operation at Gatwick airport, due to the collapse in air travel demand because of the Covid-19 pandemic. This comes soon after rival British Airways said it could not rule out closing its Gatwick operation. Virgin was Gatwick’s 9th largest airline, while British Airways was the 2nd largest, after EasyJet, which is largest – Norwegian is 3rd largest. Virgin Atlantic said it will move its flying programme from Gatwick to Heathrow, but it intends to keep its slots at Gatwick “so it can return in line with customer demand”. The job losses amount to about 30% of the total (the job losses at BA are 28%). Virgin Atlantic also plans to reduce the size of its aircraft fleet from 45 to 35 by the summer of 2022. Even the lobby group, Airlines UK admits that “Airlines are having to adapt to a sector that will be smaller and leaner in future, with no guarantees as to when we will return to pre-crisis levels.” When lockdown restrictions ease and flight schedules are increased again, there will be fewer passengers, fewer and probably more expensive flights and thousands of job losses. The area around Gatwick was too dependent on the airport for jobs etc.
BA to cut Gatwick operation and lay off 1,130 pilots – and might not return to Gatwick post-pandemic
British Airways plans, due to Covid, to lose more than 1,100 pilots and make heavy cuts to its Gatwick airport operation as part of 12,000 redundancies – which is up to 30% of its workforce. Letters sent to union representatives for all sections of the airline set out the deep cuts, as well as drastic changes to terms and conditions across the company. BA plans to lay off almost 80% of crew managers at Gatwick and 60% of other cabin crew, more than 1,100 of almost 1,900 staff. The jobs of just over 400 ground staff will be outsourced to the airport and its contractors. The airline knows “there is no certainty as to when services can return” to London City or Gatwick airports. So BA may not continue at Gatwick. And they had “not ruled out suspending the remainder of our Heathrow operation”. Ground staff at Heathrow are also likely to be forced to accept new contracts with significantly lower pay. All 4,346 BA pilots will be asked to sign new contracts changing their terms and conditions, and accept new rostering arrangements. BA will be seeking to lay off 1,130 pilots. Around 22,000 BA employees were furloughed in April and May.
Gatwick: Likely to take 4 years for passenger levels to recover to 2019 levels (if ever …)
Gatwick has said it will not ask the Treasury for emergency loans despite fearing that passenger numbers will not return to pre-Covid levels for up to 4 years. Gatwick has already secured a £300m loan from existing banks. It has also cancelled dividends, cut a lot of costs and furloughed around 2,000 staff. Boss Stewart Wingate said: “We think it is probably going to take somewhere between 3 and 4 years to get back to the levels that we were at in 2019.” Gatwick hopes it can ride out months of losses, but want to have flights re-starting by the end of May. Unlike rivals, Gatwick said “you should do absolutely everything you possibly can that is within your control to protect the business” before asking for state aid. Gatwick is open from 2-10pm each day, for a handful of flights. Unlike rival Heathrow, which gave out over £100 million in dividends to shareholders in February, Gatwick’s owners will not be taking a dividend despite the airport announcing an 8% rise in earnings of £432m in the 9 months to December 2019. There may not be dividends till 2022. It is possible that British Airways might leave Gatwick in due course.
Coronavirus: Areas reliant on aviation industry ‘to suffer worst’ – especially Crawley, too dependent on Gatwick
The Think Tank, the Centre of Cities, believes jobs in cities and towns which depend on the aviation industry will be most under threat by the coronavirus crisis. They estimate about 20% of jobs in these areas are vulnerable to the economic impacts of Covid-19. The economy of Crawley is likely to be hardest hit, as it is too dependent on Gatwick. More than 53,000 jobs are classed as vulnerable and very vulnerable in Crawley, of about 94,000 in the area. About 18% of jobs in Crawley are in aviation, compared with 1% on average across other big towns and cities. There are a lot of taxi drivers, whose work depends on the airport. People have warned for years about the dangers of areas “having all their eggs in one basket” on jobs, with too high a dependence on one industry. As much of the UK airline sector has almost closed down, with at least a 75% cut in flights at Heathrow, and over 90% cut at Gatwick, almost no flights using Luton, and so on. Luton is another town that is overly dependent on the airport, and now suffering. Also Derby and Aberdeen. The areas worse affected by job losses due to Covid-19 will be asking for government help, once the lockdowns are lifted.
Gatwick Airport will consolidate operations into the South Terminal from 1 April and limit runway opening hours to 2-10pm
Gatwick will close its North Terminal and consolidate operations into the South Terminal from 1 April, for a month, due to the lack of demand for air travel because of COVID-19. The runway to be in use between 1400 and 2200 for scheduled flights, but will be available for emergency landings and diversions only, outside these hours. The situation will be reviewed after a month, by 1st May. A decision on reopening the North Terminal will be taken when airline traffic eventually increases and Government public health advice – including on social distancing – is relaxed. Gatwick is hoping to make out that it is being “responsible” in closing, to protect the health of its staff and passengers, while it has been quite happy to have as many flights as it can, to and from other countries suffering high levels of Covid-19 infection, up until now. It is only closing because of the economics, and to “protect its business.” In addition London City Airport has announced that it was suspending all commercial and private flights until the end of April. It is also possible that Birmingham Airport could serve as a mortuary during the Coronavirus crisis.
GACC welcomes the judgement by the Court of Appeal that ANPS was unlawful – that would also apply at Gatwick
GACC (Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign) welcomes the judgement by the Court of Appeal that the Government’s Airports National Policy (ANPS) was unlawful, as it failed to take into account the Government’s commitment to the provisions of the Paris Agreement on climate change. The ANPS was an important and relevant consideration in respect of applications for new runway capacity and other airport infrastructure elsewhere in London and the South East. GACC believes the Court’s decision therefore raises the bar for all airport expansion decisions. It is good news for communities impacted by any UK airport that wants to expand, and for our environment more widely. For Gatwick the Court’s decision, if confirmed by the Supreme Court, has important implications, as the climate impacts of a new Gatwick runway would be similar to those of Heathrow. Also if Gatwick tries to make greater use of its existing runway, adding another 50,000 annual flights, and another 12 million annual passengers, would be a huge increase in carbon emissions. This would be clearly contrary to the Government’s commitment to achieve net zero carbon by 2050.