The operator of London Heathrow airport has welcomed the UK Airports Commission recommendation today that the UK should develop a third runway at the airport to meet future capacity requirements, though the rival short-listed candidates believe they remain in the race.

The UK Airports Commission delivered its long-awaited recommendations on future airport capacity for the UK and its chairman Howard Davies described its conclusions as "clear and unanimous" in recommending expanding Heathrow’s capacity through a new north-west runway. The decision, long subject to debate, moves back into the UK Government's hands. Details of the next stage of the decision process are expected today.

Following the release of the report Heathrow Airport says it welcomes the Airports Commission’s "clear recommendation" to expand at Heathrow and that it will now work with the Government to deliver expansion for all of Britain.

"This debate has never been about a runway, it’s been about the future we want for Britain. Expanding Heathrow will keep Britain as one of the world’s great trading nations, right at the heart of the global economy," says Heathrow Airport chief executive John Holland-Kaye.

"Our new plans have been designed around the needs of local communities and will meet carbon, air quality and noise targets, and provides the greatest benefit to the UK’s connectivity and its long term economic growth."

Among measures cited by the Commission to limit impact for those living near to the airport are a ban on scheduled night flights between 23:30 and 06:00 as well as a firm parliamentary commitment not to pursue a fourth runway for the hub.

"The Commission has backed a positive and ambitious vision for Britain. We will now work with Government to deliver it," says Holland-Kaye.

In making its recommendations, the Commission described the other shortlisted schemes - the extension of Heathrow's northern runway and an additional runway at London Gatwick- as credible options.

"The Gatwick scheme is feasible," it says, but says, "the additional capacity would be more focused on short-haul intra-European routes and the economic benefits considerably smaller."

Gatwick Airport chief executive Stewart Wingate says it is still "very much in the race", noting the Commission's report makes clear expansion at the south London airport is deliverable.

“It is for the Commission to make a recommendation but it is of course for the Government to decide. So we now enter the most important stage of the process," he says.

“We are confident that when the Government makes that decision they will choose Gatwick as the only deliverable option. For instance, this report highlights the very significant environmental challenges at Heathrow such as air quality and noise impact.

“Gatwick will give the country the economic benefits it needs and at the same time impact far less people. It is quicker simpler and quieter. Above all - after decades of delay - it can actually happen.”

The Commission says the third short-listed option - extending the northern runway - provides economic benefits, is less costly and requires the loss of fewer homes. "But it provides a smaller increase in capacity and is less attractive from a noise and air quality perspective," it judges.

Heathrow Hub, which led this proposal, notes the Commission has acknowledged that "our innovative proposal" has significant advantages, including being £3 billion cheaper than the third runway and potentially demolishing only 242 homes compared to 783 for the third runway. He [Davies] has also endorsed some of our ideas for noise mitigation, including an end to night quota flights".

Heathrow Hub director Jock Lowe says: “Heathrow Airport is the correct location for expansion for the UK. We recognise that the Commission has spoken but we will continue to liaise with ministers and civil servants to ensure our proposal is properly understood as a cheaper, simpler and more politically deliverable option.

“From the beginning we have maintained that Heathrow is the answer and, while we still believe our proposal is cheaper, simpler and more politically deliverable, we are relieved that the Commission has made the correct decision in terms of location. Heathrow is where the airlines want to be; it’s where the demand is.

Source: Cirium Dashboard