Gatwick makes last-ditch push for new runway

Turnover at the West Sussex airport rose by 7.5 per cent in the year to the end of March, lifted by a 7.8 per cent increase in passengers to 38.7m.

Some 2.8m more passengers used the airport compared with the same period a year earlier.

On a single day in August there were 906 planes either taking off or landing at Gatwick, a world record for an airport with one runway.

Pre-tax profits slipped to £83.8m from £85.8m, a decline that was mainly due to Gatwick enjoying a smaller gain from financial derivatives than in 2014, The Telegraph reports.

The results come just days before the Airports Commission is expected to make its highly-anticipated recommendation on how the Government should tackle the crunch in airport capacity in the South East of England.

The Sir Howard Davies-led commission will choose from three proposals: a second runway at Gatwick, a third at Heathrow, and a proposal to extend Heathrow’s northern runway.

His report is expected next week, and the focus will then shift to the Government, which is not bound by the recommendation and is likely to give a full response to Sir Howard’s work by Christmas.

Stewart Wingate, the boss of Gatwick, said the airport’s strong passenger growth strengthened its case to expand.

The commission originally estimated that Gatwick would top 40m annual passengers in 2025, but Mr Wingate said it would surpass that level in its current financial year.

“We’re a decade ahead of the numbers underpinning the Airports Commission’s work,” he said. “The maximum capacity that we think we can grow to over the next few years is 45m passengers. But at peak times throughout the year, we’re fully sold out, we’re full.”

Heathrow is also effectively running at full capacity.

Mr Wingate believes that Gatwick, which is not a hub like Heathrow, is best-placed to take advantage of developments in the aviation industry.

Gatwick focuses on point-to-point flights that take travellers directly to their destinations, while Heathrow is dependent on transfer passengers, which it argues makes long-haul routes viable for carriers.

The West Sussex airport believes that changing jet technology will make the hub concept obsolete, and points to the growth of budget airlines that are revolutionising long-haul travel.

“Growth across European markets is being driven by low-cost carriers for leisure and business, but increasingly we’re starting to see the long-haul market develop with the low-cost carriers entering into it,” Mr Wingate said.

Earlier this month, Canadian carrier WestJet announced it would start budget transatlantic flights from Gatwick.

Norwegian Air Shuttle also launched low-cost flights from the airport to the US last year. The number of Gatwick passengers travelling to North America rose to 2.14m from 1.97m a year earlier.

David Cameron, the prime minister, blocked a third runway at Heathrow in 2010, and Mr Wingate believes that the rival airport’s failure in the past to expand means that Gatwick is the only practical solution to the country’s capacity crisis.

“What we’re hoping is that Sir Howard decides to go for the deliverable option,” he said.

“Heathrow’s been chosen previously, it always runs up against the same political opposition at the end of the day, which is really because of the massive environmental impacts that it has to the west of London.”

Prominent Conservatives, including Boris Johnson and Zac Goldsmith, vehemently oppose expanding the West London hub.

A second runway at Gatwick is the cheapest of the three options Sir Howard will choose from, with the commission estimating that it would cost £9.3bn. It would also require the smallest contribution from the taxpayer.