Options are building a new airport and adding runways at Heathrow, Luton and Stansted

London Heathrow Airport could get a third runway, London Stansted up to three more, and London Luton a longer runway under proposals in a consultation paper unveiled by UK transport secretary Alistair Darling. In addition, there could be a new four-runway airport in north Kent and another "small" airport at former RAF Alconbury in East Anglia.

The government says the "most urgent" need for additional runways is in the south-east UK, where airports serving London are nearly at full capacity and crucial to the nation's trading capability. International Air Transport Association director general Giovanni Bisignani says: "If the UK is to maintain its leadership role in world air transport, extra runway capacity is needed in the south-east and the time to take the decisions leading to that is now...a new runway at London Heathrow is a priority."

Heathrow would get a 2,000m short-haul runway parallel to the existing pair well outside its northern boundaries, just south of the M4 motorway, but able to handle simultaneous approaches with the current runways. It would increase Heathrow's present annual air transport movement (ATM) capacity from 460,000 to 655,000.

London Gatwick will not get another runway because the government says it will not overturn a 1979 agreement that no new runway would be planned there before 2019. The British Air Transport Association (BATA) says: "At least three new runways are needed in the south-east and there is a very strong case, supported by all UK airlines, for early developments at both Heathrow and Gatwick."

Stansted, the favourite to get clearance to expand, could be developed from the present one-runway to four, taking the maximum potential capacity from 260,000 ATM to 756,000 ATM, with an estimated 746,000 ATM being used by 2030.

There are two options for a 3,000m runway at London Luton instead of the existing 2,150m east-west runway. One option would be parallel, to the south, using the present runway as a taxiway, the other realigned about 220°/040°. Mainly because of a more efficient taxiing system, maximum capacity would increase from 100,000 ATM to 240,000 ATM, nearly five times actual usage in 2000.

Proposals for new airports include developing Alconbury, in Cambridgeshire, and a major four-runway airport at Cliffe in north Kent on the Thames estuary. However, the latter would occupy designated environmentally protected land and have a high bird-strike hazard.

Source: Flight International