In light of all the striking announcements and proposed developments by London’s major airports, now I am even more intrigued regarding the future of aviation in the south of England. For me, the contest between the major players – Heathrow, Gatwick, London City, Stanstead and Luton Airports – to attract business and customers is getting more serious month by month. As each airport flexes its muscles to show market command, the ongoing efforts for growth and development brings me in mind the lyrics from the well-known show tune “Anything you can do, I can do better” composed by Irving Berlin in 1946.
To put things in perspective, let me unfold in condensed fashion each airport’s plans in order to realize the scale of their determination to grow more in the future.
Heathrow Airport plans to construct another (third) runway, upgrade Terminals 2 and 5 as well as to build new car parks. According to the company, the whole project will be funded privately. Different opposition groups had blocked the expansion plan for considerable time however; the Supreme Court lifted the ban in December 2020, reopening the door for developers to apply for planning permission.
Gatwick Airport intends to expand its operational capacity and to grow in the longer term mainly by turning their secondary northern runway into a routinely used runway. The company based the pitch of their strategy on the prospect of an increasing demand for air travel in the future. The plans have attracted debate from diverse environmental and community groups and a lot controversy after the Covid-19 pandemic. The details of the expansion plans first proposed in the 2018 Airport Master Plan.
London City Airport expects passenger numbers to increase to around 11 million. The airport has recently celebrated the completion of substantial airfield infrastructure project that included construction of a new full-length parallel taxiway and eight new aircraft stands. In addition, a new ATC Tower in also under construction. The company sets out their vision and desire to grow in a detailed Master Plan published on 4th December 2020.
London Stanstead Airport received permission to increase passenger capacity to 35 million a year (currently at approximately 28 million). The airport’s expansion project estimated at £600m although the plans have experienced opposition from local Uttlesford District Council and have already decelerated. The expansion programme involves new arrivals building, upgrade of baggage facilities and bigger car park.
London Luton Airport proposes an enormous development that will include a new terminal, infrastructure improvements and expansion of facilities. In recent years, the airport already (periodically) reached its maximum permitted capacity of 18m passengers. An important aspect of the development is the commitment to create new parkland and open space in order to compensate for using part of Wigmore Valley Park.
Airport plans show tremendous ambition
For me, it is great to see the strong desire and determination of the five airports to become more successful. Their plans show tremendous enterprising ambition. More importantly, I want to congratulate these airports for their determination to support aviation during one of the most challenging periods in the industry’s history.
Having said that, I find great irony in the whole composition of the five main players. Despite the fact that these airports share a declared interest in representing ‘the city of London’ nonetheless, in the spirit of business competition they all try to outrun each other. In my opinion, this is the greatest charm of this puzzling paradox. In any case, looking at the situation from a different angle, I would suggest that it would be a better tactic for the five airports to amalgamate their efforts into a common stratagem for the good of the country’s aviation sector.