Gatwick airport – background information

 Information from the GACC website about the airport:

See also on the GACC website:

The Environment:

Airport Expansion:

The Runway Issue:


Environmental Facts:

Size. Gatwick is the second largest airport in the UK, and has a serious adverse effect on the environment, both globally and locally.

In the year to end June 2007 Gatwick handled 34.4 million passengers, i.e. 17.2 million return trips. Compared to Heathrow 66.9 million, Stansted 23.7 million. In the year to end June 2007 there were 255,547 traffic movements, an average of over 40 an hour. At peak times a rate is reached of nearly one movement a minute.

Location. Gatwick is situated 28 miles south of London, in West Sussex County, and in Crawley Borough. The northern boundary of the airport adjoins Surrey County. The boundaries of Horsham District, Mole Valley District, Reigate and Banstead Borough, and Tandridge District also adjoin the airport.

Countryside. The countryside around Gatwick, thanks to strict planning policies, is attractive and unspoilt – its main characteristic being woods and fields and historic villages. All the land to the north of the airport is designated as Green Belt where development is prohibited. There are three nationally designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) within 15 miles of the airport, and they almost encircle the airport on west, north and east. The main industrial and commercial development associated with the airport has been confined to the Crawley industrial area to the south of the airport.

Further information

Noise. Noise from aircraft taking off has reduced was substantially reduced between 1980 and 2002 as a result of the banning of the noisiest types (Chapter 2) aircraft as from 2002, but is still a serious problem. There has been little change in noise from landing aircraft, but the numbers continue to increase. The continuous descent approach (CDA) procedure (introduced as a result of pressure from environmental groups) has made a small improvement but only at distances of 15-25 miles from the airport. BAA has given out misleading information that aircraft on CDA ‘normally’ descend at 3º whereas in fact any aircraft even descending at only 1º are counted. Thus many aircraft are below the ‘normal’ height. Moreover, during the day, 1 in 5 aircraft fail to achieve CDA.

Flight Paths. Aircraft landing at Gatwick are required to join the Instrument Landing System glide slope (a straight line at 3 degrees) not lower than 2000 feet by day and 3000 feet by night. In practice many are instructed by air traffic control to fly in line with the runway for the final 10-15 miles.

Aircraft taking off are required to keep to Noise Preferential Routes, designed to avoid local towns. (The Standard Instrument Departure routes roughly coincide with the NPRs.) After aircraft reach a height of 3,000 or 4,000 feet (which modern aircraft reach fairly close to the airport) they can be told by Air Traffic Control to take any route.

This means that no part of Surrey, Sussex or west Kent can any longer be defined as a ‘tranquil area’.

Further information

Noise Contour Maps.  Produced annually by the Department for Transport (DfT), are useful for measuring changes from one year to another, or for comparing one airport with another. They show the average noise (leq) for an average summer day. The 57 leq contour is taken by DfT as indicating the onset of significant community annoyance, based on surveys at Heathrow. But in rural areas noise causes greater disturbance because other background noise is lower, and greater annoyance because the expectation of peace is greater. The wide spread of noise disturbance is better illustrated by the extent of membership of GACC – which includes most Parish Councils within 15 miles east and west of the airport, and within 10 miles north and south.

The number within the 57 leq contour was 9,000 in 2000, 3,500 in 2002 but rose to 4500 in 2006. Further information

Noise Limits. Maximum noise limits for aircraft taking off are 94 dBA by day; 89 dBA between 2300 and 2330, and between 0600 and 0700. At night, between 1130 and 0600, the limit is 87 dBA. The noise levels are measured by noise monitors situated approximately 6.5 km from the start of take off. There are penalties (£500/1000) on aircraft which exceed the limits, and these are paid into a Community Fund. But because the limits have not been reduced since March 2002, when the noisy Chapter 2 aircraft were banned, few aircraft now exceed the limits. There are no limits on noise caused by aircraft on approach.

Night Flights.   For more, see the Night Flights at Gatwick page.

The noisiest types of aircraft are banned between 11.00 pm and 7.00 am. At night, between 1130 and 0600, the noise limit is 87 dBA.

The number of flights between 11.30 pm and 6.00 am is limited by a quota – at present 11,200 in the summer (seven months) and 3,250 in winter. In summer 2006 the actual number was 10,939 (average 50 a night), and in winter 2006/07 2,734.

There is also a separate quota system based on noise, with noisy aircraft using more points. Aircraft are classified as QC1, QC2, QC4 etc. A QC4 aircraft uses four points and makes twice as much noise as a QC2. A QC2 uses two points and makes twice as much noise as a QC1. In summer 2007 the noise quota will be 6,700 points, and in winter 2006/07 it was 2,300 points. In winter 2006-7 the actual number of points used was 1,355. There has been a change in classification which makes it difficult to compare past and future figures.

In 2006 the government announced its decision on the number of night flights from Gatwick for the six years 2007 – 2012. The number of night flights remains at roughly the previous level but there is to be a gradual 10% reduction in the amount of noise permitted at night. The noisiest aircraft were banned (except when delayed). GACC has welcomed this small improvement. GACC press release

Gatwick will still have more night flights than Stansted, and twice as many as Heathrow. The total level of noise permitted at night each year at Gatwick will be greater than at Stansted but less than at Heathrow.

GACC has produced a table showing in statistical form the present night flight situation, the consultation proposals, what BAA and the airlines asked for, and the government decision compared to Heathrow and Stansted. Table

For full details

What are the noise restrictions for night flights?
(from the BAA, Gatwick website)
The most recent restrictions were introduced in October 2006 and consist of four main elements as follows:
A maximum number of flights during each season (11,200 in summer and 3,250 in winter) between 11.30pm and 6.00am;
A supplementary quota system to encourage the use of quieter aircraft.  Aircraft types are given a Quota Count (QC) value, according to how much noise they make on landing and take-off. These are: QC 0.25, QC0.5, QC1, QC2, QC4, QC8 and QC16, which is the noisiest category. Aircraft movements score QC values against a maximum allowable Quota for each season (6,700 for summer and 2,300 for winter) between 11:30pm and 6am, “the night quota period”;
Aircraft of QC4 cannot be scheduled to operate between 11.30pm and 6.00am;
Aircraft of QC16 and QC8 cannot be scheduled to operate between 11pm and 7am.


Climate Change. As the second largest airport in the UK, Gatwick has a big responsibility for the contribution of aviation to climate change. Aviation is the industry with the fastest growing contribution to climate change. Aircraft emissions are particularly damaging because they occur at high altitude, and include both CO2 and NO2. Aircraft also add to global warming because they create vapour trails and cirrus cloud.

The government has stated that aviation accounts for 13% of UK climate change damage. Answer to Parliamentary Question 2 May 2007. This figure includes the greater damage done by aircraft emissions at high altitude (the radiative forcing effect), but excludes the damage caused by the formation of cirrus clouds.

GACC has calculated that UK citizens on return flights from Gatwick each year are responsible for emissions equivalent to over 20 million tonnes of CO2. That is more than the total emissions from all of Surrey and West Sussex – industry, vans and lorries, private cars, and the heating and lighting of homes and offices.

For further information see

Local Pollution.  The most serious threat to the health of local residents, particularly those suffering from respiratory problems such as bronchitis or asthma, is NO2. In 2000 Gatwick produced 2,980 tonnes of NO2, and BAA’s Development Strategy forecast that this would rise to 6,016 tonnes by 2008. Reigate and Banstead Borough Council have expressed concern that in parts of Horley pollution levels are only slightly below EU limits – which become legally binding in 2010.

Further information

Road Traffic. With an average of over 80,000 passengers a day, and around 25,000 employees on airport, Gatwick generates a large volume of road traffic. This adds to congestion on the M25, and is particularly serious on the rural roads east and west of the airport. It also adds to local pollution.

For many years BAA has had a target that 40% of passengers should arrive or depart by public transport (to reduce pollution and pressure on the road system). The proportion is now 35%. The proportion of staff travelling by public transport is, however, increasing as as result of the new Fastway bus system but is still only about 25%.

Airport Development

NORTH TERMINAL EXTENSION.   In 2009 Gatwick Airport applied for planning permission to extend the North Terminal in order to facilitate expansion to 40 million passengers, with 40,000 extra flights above the current (2011) level.  GACC objected strongly –  download word doc    The Government refused to order a Public Inquiry, and Crawley Borough gave permission – imposing no significant conditions to limit environmental damage.

Forecast Growth.


The new owners of Gatwick have stated that their aim is to increase passenger numbers at Gatwick to 40 million. This is expected to be achieved on the existing runway by use of larger aircraft, and by filling up the so called ‘quiet’ times of day. GACC is concerned that this increase would lead to more noise and more climate change damage.   But, in practice, due to the recession passenger numbers are going down, not up.  They have fallen by 10% since 2007.


BAA Master Plan. The BAA Interim Gatwick Airport Master Plan published in October 2006 shows that the airport plans to expand to handle 40 million passengers by 2015 (down from 42 million) within the present airport boundaries. Total noise is now not forecast to get worse, but with no improvement.

Plans are also produced for a new runway south of the airport. It is confirmed that Government policy is for a new runway to be built at Stansted (completion now expected 2015/16), and a new runway at Heathrow, if pollution limits can be met. Only if they cannot be met at Heathrow, would a new runway be built at Gatwick.

GACC believes that these plans for airport expansion are absolutely contrary to the government’s aim to tackle climate change, and will therefore never happen. GACC describes the plan as a ‘crazy runway

It is essential that this agreement should now be extended to 2015, and should be toughened up to reflect new environmental standards.


In February 2001 BAA signed a legal agreement with the local authorities around Gatwick for the period to 2008-9. (Not to be confused with the 1979 no runway legal agreement).  Planning permission was in effect agreed for development within the airport boundary, subject to thirty six environmental safeguards. The most important safeguard was that the area covered by the 57 leq noise contour would be halved compared to 1996. GACC played a major role in initiating and facilitating this  agreement.


Another Section 106 agreement was signed with neighbouring local authorities in January 2009 to cover the period to 2015. GACC was not involved.  The Councils agreed to support growth to 40 million passengers a year, and in exchange BAA (now GIP) promised to introduce a number of ‘action plans’.  Unfortunately the agreement did not lay down what should be in the ‘action plans’ and most of those produced so far are unimpressive.  Read the agreement.
GACC urged the local councils – without success –  to insist on a legal agreement which contained simple but precise obligations including: no increase in noise; no increase in local pollution; no worsening of the climate change damage caused by Gatwick; and at least 40 % of air passengers to use public transport.
Safeguarded Area. In the December 2003 White Paper the Government stated that all the land between the airport and Crawley should be safeguarded in case it is needed for a new runway. New houses or business premises would not be permitted. Neither BAA or the CAA, however, have any legal power to safeguard this land, and are expecting Crawley Borough Council to do it for them.

BAA have indicated that they only wish to safeguard land within the proposed new airport boundary – which is shown in their master plan. But surprisingly they do not intend to object to planning applications in this area.

Blight. BAA will be providing compensation for people living within the safeguarded area who wish to move but find it difficult to sell their houses. BAA have published proposals for compensation for those people who live with or very close to the new proposed airport boundary. Also for noise insulation of schools and hospitals. The areas covered, however, are so small and mean that no schools or hospitals will be eligible! Over 7,600 houses will be blighted by the runway threat but only about 280 are eligible.

There will, however, be no compensation for many years for the far greater number of people who live under the potential flight paths from the new runway, and whose houses are blighted. They will have to wait to claim under the Land Compensation Act one year after a new runway was opened ie well after 2019. In practice there will probably be no compensation because we believe that a new runway will never be built.

The Runway Issue

Small Site. Gatwick is a very small airport, and is confined by the towns of Horley and Crawley, and by the medieval village of Charlwood, and also by high ground to the west and the main London – Brighton railway line to the east.

Gatwick has one main runway, and one subsidiary runway which can be used when the main runway is not available. The two runways are too close together to be used simultaneously.

Any new runway is ruled out before August 2019 by a legal agreement signed in 1979 (not to be confused with 2001 legal agreement mentioned above).
There are BAA maps to show the area at Gatwick that would be affected by a new runway at Download a map of BAA’s Gatwick master plan here (2.46MB)

Government Decision. In the White Paper published in December 2003, the Government announced its decision that two new runways were needed in the South East. The first would be built at Stansted and the second, if pollution levels could be reduced sufficiently to comply with EU legal limits, at Heathrow. The White Paper stated: “The Government will not seek to overturn the 1979 planning agreement preventing the construction of a second runway at Gatwick before 2019. In case the conditions attached to the construction of a third Heathrow runway cannot be met, and since there is a strong case on its own merits for a new wide-spaced runway at Gatwick after 2019, land should be safeguarded for this.”

Further information

Progress Report
The Government published its Progress Report on the Air Transport White Paper on December 06. Progress Report.

The Progress Report confirms that no new runway can be built at Gatwick before 2019, but that the option of a wide-spaced runway after that date should be kept open in case the environmental conditions for a new runway at Heathrow cannot be met.

The plan for a new runway at Stansted is already several years behind schedule, and the runway is not now expected to open before 2015. Uttlesford District Council has rejected, partly on climate change grounds, BAA’s planning application to increase the limit on the number of passengers at Stansted from 25 million to 35 million a year. BAA has appealed and an inquiry is expected in 2007. An inquiry into the second runway is due to start in 2008 and conclude in 2010.

For Heathrow the Progress Report stresses the economic importance of another runway, and suggests that the third runway (and sixth terminal) should be built ‘as soon as it is possible to meet the stringent environmental limits set in the White Paper.  A consultation into increasing the use of the existing runways and the possibility of a third runway will be held during 2007. Details of whether pollution levels can be brought within EU limits will be published as part of the consultation.’

The Government’s determination to press ahead with airport expansion has been widely condemned as in conflict with its climate change policies. Senior politicians from all Parties (including Shadow Environment Secretary, Peter Ainsworth MP) and the directors of all the main UK environmental organisations have written to the Times to deplore the government’s policy. Letter.

Gatwick Scores Poorly. The exclusion of Gatwick was not solely due to the legal agreement. The results of the three year SERAS study showed that Gatwick scored badly both on environmental and economic issues. As the White Paper said, the Government “have concluded that the case for a runway at Gatwick is not as strong as for the options at Stansted and (subject to meeting the critical conditions) Heathrow.”

Impact of the Potential Runway. A wide-spaced runway would be located close to the north of Crawley, and would have a severe effect on Langley Green and Ifield. The White Paper stated that around 15,000 extra people would be affected by severe noise. New flight paths would affect Rusper and Horsham, Copthorne and East Grinstead. Up to 300 houses would be demolished including 17 listed buildings. By definition, the pollution would be so serious that it would be unacceptable at Heathrow.

A ‘wide spaced’ runway, as proposed in the White Paper, would be designed to enable Gatwick to handle 83 million passengers a year, compared to 34 million at present. This would require extensive road building, a railway tunnel under East Croydon and new housing for extra workers equivalent to a town the size of Crawley. Plans for the proposed new runway were published by BAA in their Gatwick Airport Interim Master Plan. See above.

BAA suggest the timing might be:

2011 evaluate options for site of new runway
2014 planning application
2019 start construction
2023 or early 2024 open runway

GACC believes that plans for a new runway and a huge new terminal, designed to enable Gatwick to handle 80 million passengers a year, are totally contrary to the need to limit climate change damage, and will never be implemented.

Previous Decisions. An additional runway has been proposed many times in the past, in 1953, in 1970 and in 1993, but has always been found to be impracticable. In July 2002 the Government announced that they had decided that no new runway would be built at Gatwick before 2030, and that Gatwick should be excluded from the consultation on potential sites. This was, however, challenged at judicial review, and the Government produced a revised consultation document in February 2003 including Gatwick runway options.

Further information click here

Runway Options. The 2002 consultation document put forward three options: a close parallel runway 385m south of the existing runway; a wide spaced runway 1035m south; or two new runways, a wide spaced runway to the south plus a new runway to the north of the airport.

The physical constraints of the site mean that none of the proposed runway options would be practicable.

The CAA have stated that, because of the wake vortex problem, a close parallel runway would do little to increase airport capacity.

The so called ‘wide spaced’ runway would be very close to the town of Crawley, only a mile from the Town Hall, and would cause serious air and ground noise. BA have stated that the confined site would seriously reduce airport capacity, and BAA have said that the high ground to the west would limit the take-off distance.

The proposed northern runway would point straight at the town of Horley. BAA have stated that it would require a cutting 10-25 times as large as the notorious cutting at Twyford Down. It would destroy Edolphs Copse, an ancient bluebell woodland owned by the Woodland Trust. It would leave the historic village of Charlwood, with a grade 1 Norman church and over 80 listed buildings, sandwiched between the runways.

The December 2003 White Paper stated that “The Government do not support the northern runway option at Gatwick, and believe that there is a stronger case for the wide-spaced runway than for the close parallel runway.”

The Legal Agreement. The construction of any new runway at Gatwick is ruled out before August 2019 by a legal agreement between BAA and West Sussex County Council. The agreement could only be overturned by legislation which would need to be passed by both Houses of Parliament. The House of Lords might well refuse to pass such a Bill.

Further information click here

Why Was it Signed? In 1979 BAA, then the British Airports Authority, was seeking planning permission to build the North Terminal. They promised (as they did with T5 at Heathrow) that if they got the terminal, they would never go on to ask for a new runway. So West Sussex County Council asked them to put their promise in the form of a legal agreement. BAA were prepared to do so because they were aware that any new runway was ruled out by the physical constraints of the site.

Why should a runway be ruled out by ‘a bit of paper’? The runway is ruled out by the physical constraints of the site (see above). The legal agreement merely reflects these constraints. They will remain when the agreement expires.

Runway Opposition. In response to the 2003 consultation, the runway proposals were carefully considered and debated by many local authorities and voluntary groups. By July 2003, over eighty councils and environmental groups had declared their opposition to the runway proposals. They included both Surrey and West Sussex County Councils, and all the District and Borough Councils around the airport. All the local MPs are strongly opposed to the proposed wide spaced runway.

Crawley Borough Council supported the judicial review in autumn 2002, on the grounds that the merits of a new runway at Gatwick should be discussed. This produced a strong reaction and the formation of an all party group “One’s Enough”. In June 2003 the Council voted unanimously to oppose any new runway.

Further information click here

Taxation. The main reason why air travel is expanding so fast is that it receives huge tax concessions – no fuel tax, no VAT, duty free sales. These far exceed the air passenger duty. The total annual tax subsidy is around £9 billion.

Taxing aviation fuel at the same rate as petrol for cars, and putting VAT on airline tickets, would not mean higher fares. It would merely cancel out the forecast fall in air fares.

It would not stop the growth in aviation, merely reduce it from 4% a year to a more sustainable 2% a year. But, according to the DfT computer model, it would mean that no new runways would be required.

Further information click here

The Future. Concern about climate change is mounting. So is the realisation that aviation is the industry with the fastest growing contribution to climate change. So is concern about the dangers of air traffic congestion. So is the realisation that the growth in aviation is largely due to the huge tax concessions it receives. It therefore seems unlikely that any new runway will be built, let alone two.

DfT forecasts:
The DfT has done forecasts of future numbers for UK airports. This can be found at:
UK Air Passenger Demand and CO2 Forecasts   2007
The numbers for Gatwick (page 108):
Low and Cental  forecast:  2005  –  35 million
                                               2015  –  35
                                               2030  –  40
High forecast:                     2005  – 35
                                              2015  – 40
                                              2030  – 40