London Gatwick Airport has been reinstated as a possible candidate for extra runway capacity in the UK after initially being ruled out, and other airports are also making their cases.

Gatwick was missing when in July the UK government launched its wide-ranging consultation on a plan to expand the country's airport capacity. The omission appears to centre on a political decision not to reopen the controversial issue of expanding the airport, which is bound by a compromise deal struck back in 1979 between airport owner BAA and the local authorities. That agreed that a second runway would not be built until 2019. The court has said, however, that Gatwick should have been included in a consultation which includes expansion options beyond that date.

The Freedom to Fly coalition, which brings together air transport, business and labour interests to push for new UK airport capacity, privately admits that the Gatwick omission has slowed some of the momentum behind its lobbying campaign, given that the final decision will now be delayed from January until towards the end of the year.

Most industry interests agree that Gatwick should have been in the frame from the start. "Along with Stansted, Gatwick is the second most important for expansion after Heathrow, which is probably the prime requirement on a national basis," says Roger Wiltshire of the British Air Transport Association (BATA). When the government announced the consultation, it gave options for new runways at Heathrow and Stansted, along with a new airport at Cliffe, to the east of London.

IATA has written to UK transport secretary Alistair Darling throwing its weight behind a third runway at Heathrow by 2012. Its second priority is a second widely spaced runway at Stansted by 2014, with a third at Stansted or a second at Gatwick by 2020.

With Gatwick back in the frame, BAA is taking more time to consider its response. Meanwhile, other airports around London are stating their cases.

London Luton Airport, which is owned by TBI, is campaigning for a new runway. The government's consultation did suggest building a second runway at Luton capable of handling more movements than the existing one, which would be closed. Managing director Paul Kehoe says a second should be built and the existing one retained.

"We think ultimately the government should spread the economic gain and the environmental pain," he says. A new runway at Luton will help to use existing airports to their maximum capacity and bring in a competitive element to BAA's London airports, he adds.

Kehoe believes second runways at both Luton and Stansted will bring some much-needed extra runway capacity to the south-east of England before another runway at Gatwick can be considered after 2019. The Luton runway could be operational by 2011, he notes.Redhill, a small general aviation and helicopter airfield just north of Gatwick, is reviving its efforts to be developed into an airport. It first floated the idea of being an overflow for Gatwick in the early 1990s. Today the plan is to establish Redhill in its own right, and it offers the option to add capacity relatively quickly, says its director of external relations John Cousens. He says the property owners of Redhill can raise the £800 million ($1,260 million) needed to build a new 2,000m runway and 15 million passengers-a-year capacity terminal, and associated road and rail links.

After the consultation, which ends in May, the government's autumn blueprint will set out its decisions. Then it will be up to airport owners to apply for planning permission, which can take years. However, the government is also preparing to streamline this process so applications are speeded up.

Source: Airline Business