ANALYSIS: Airlines wade into London capacity debate

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An earlier version of this story was updated to include Ryanair reaction.

There has been a mixed reaction from airlines to today's news that the UK Airports Commission has shortlisted Gatwick and Heathrow for possible expansion, though there is agreement that the body's ultimate decision should be granted political support.

Ryanair chief Micheal O’Leary has been characteristically outspoken in criticising the omission from the shortist of London Stansted, the Irish budget carrier's base in the UK capital.

"While we welcome the progress made by Sir Howard Davies’ Airports Commission, its shortlist shows that it continues to pander to environmental concerns at the expense of UK air transport, tourism and jobs," says O'Leary. "The obvious solution is a market based one which allows each of the three airports [Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted] to construct an additional runway as and whenever they wish to, subject obviously to planning permission.

"The UK government doesn’t determine where new hotels or new tourism facilities are developed. This repeated political interference in much needed runway expansion in the southeast continues to result in undercapacity, excessive pricing and a bad deal for passengers."

IAG chief executive Willie Walsh, who has previously been vocal in support of growing Heathrow capacity, says the commission "continues to produce detailed analysis of the issues, but its efforts will be wasted without political consensus".

Other airlines have expressed support for one or other of the two London airports, but there is also something of a consensus on the need for politicians to unite in backing whatever recommendation the commission decides on.

Virgin Atlantic chief executive Craig Kreeger says commissions and consultations have "come and gone, and political wrangling has failed to translate into action", adding that it is "vital that when Davies reports the final recommendations, a firm and final decision is taken to increase hub capacity and the UK’s competitiveness".

The Virgin boss's preferred option is expansion of Heathrow because "although Gatwick is a very important airport to us, additional runway capacity there does not address the UK’s chronic hub capacity shortage".

EasyJet's main operations are centred at Gatwick, but the low-cost carrier has not come out explicitly in support of expanding the West Sussex airport per se. However, it has urged the Airports Commission to dismiss the old hub-and-spoke model in favour of the point-to-point model "which prevails today".

The Luton-based airline acknowledges "there are different views in our industry on the precise way to satisfy future demand", but adds: "Everyone agrees that we need certainty. We call upon all political parties to back the commission’s final recommendations – whatever they are."

Other Gatwick operators have made strong statements advocating growth of the Global Infrastructure Partners-owned facility.

Monarch Airlines chief executive Iain Rawlinson says his carrier "welcomes the inclusion of a second runway at Gatwick as one of three options that the Airports Commission will consider for its final recommendation.

"The commission has correctly recognised the need for additional airport capacity in the southeast. We strongly believe that the proposal to build a second runway at Gatwick is the best option available to deliver this."

Norwegian has taken to social media to back an expanded Gatwick airport, while US carrier Delta Air Lines comes down on the side of Heathrow: "Delta considers that Heathrow is critical and pre-eminent position as the leading hub to the United States. There is no effective substitute and Delta believes new capacity should be focused at London Heathrow."

However, airlines are mute on the subject of the Thames Estuary airport – promoted by London's mayor Boris Johnson – which has been all but dropped from the running.

The Airports Commission is due to deliver its final report in 2015.