London Gatwick Airport is to begin detailed work on options for a new runway, though this will not challenge its existing commitment not to construct a second runway at the facility before 2019.
The airport, which was bought by Global Infrastructure Partners in 2009, says it will submit detailed options to the Independent Commission on Aviation Connectivity recently established by new UK transport minister Patrick McLoughlin to address future runway capacity in the south-east of England.
"The work programme will now look in detail at the implications of a new runway and will cover all issues which Gatwick anticipates will be relevant to the Commission and the eventual policy decision by the Government on airport expansion," the airport says. "It will evaluate various runway options and assess key requirements, including environmental, surface access and economic impacts."
A second runway at Gatwick has largely been off the agenda of London's airport capacity debate of recent years because of a 1979 legal agreement with the local council which prohibited a second runway being constructed before 2019. But with no firm decision in recent years and the new Aviation Connectivity commission not due to report until 2015, the timings now appear to bring the Gatwick option into London's runway capacity debate.
Gatwick, which says its submission will be consistent with its 2019 runway commitment, discussed a second runway scenario as part of its recent masterplan looking at options beyond 2020.
Gatwick Airport chief executive Stewart Wingate says: "I believe a new runway at Gatwick could be affordable, practical and give passengers a greater choice of routes to key markets. We have the space, capability and access to financial resources.
"There are clear practical advantages of a new runway at Gatwick. When compared with a third runway at Heathrow, we would have a significantly lower environmental impact whilst adding significantly more capacity. Stansted is half empty today, we already have much better surface transport links and feel our business case will be much stronger.
"As for the Estuary airport concepts, there are major questions on affordability, environmental issues and whether they are deliverable," he says.