Safe Landing Attend Gatwick Airport Expansion Inquiry

28 Feb, 2024

👨‍✈️ We attended the Gatwick Airport Expansion Planning Inquiry, on Wednesday 28 February, to oppose Gatwick Airport’s plans to increase passenger numbers to 80 million a year.

We appeared on ITV News, BBC Radio Surrey and local media such as V2 Radio Sussex, LBC Radio, and SussexWorld.

👨‍🏫 A video of Finlay Asher, aerospace engineer, providing our Safe Landing representation at the ‘Open Floor Hearing’ during the first day of the inquiry can be viewed below:

Gatwick’s Expansion Plans

✈️ The UK’s second-largest airport plans to bring its standby runway into regular use, allowing it to handle up to 75 million passengers a year by the late 2030s, up from a record 46.5 million passengers in 2019, rising to more than 80 million passengers by 2047.

🔥 The proposed expansion will make Gatwick passenger numbers almost as large as Heathrow’s, and increase carbon emissions by 1 million tonnes a year, putting the UK Government’s Carbon Budget delivery plan in even greater jeopardy. We think this won’t result in the positive jobs story being spun by the airport in the media. Todd and Finlay from Safe Landing explain more:

Safe Landing speaks at the public inquiry

📄 We gave representations at the inquiry, where we be presented our case that:

  • we oppose business-as-usual airport expansion, instead any airport development needs to be fit for the future.
  • no aircraft technology or alternative jet fuel will be available at scale, in the time required, to rapidly decarbonise aviation.
  • aviation is currently under regulated and taxed. This situation cannot continue forever, and we are likely to be hit by a wall of far higher pricing to pay for alternative fuels and negative emissions in the near future. This will massively impact and reduce projections for air travel demand.
  • we will anyway hit hard limits in terms of our legally binding carbon budget, with the UK government committing to include international aviation emissions from the mid-2030s.
  • this will mean enforced limits on flying fossil fuel powered aircraft, as the infrastructure development at Gatwick is planned to cater for.

Concerns over un-realisable air traffic growth

✈️✈️✈️ As a result, our group is worried that Gatwick Airport are building in overcapacity for a type of air travel which is not fit for the future.

📉 This will lead to stranded assets, when the projected demand fails to materialise, and will provide a bad return on investment.

👨‍✈️ 👎 We expect that aviation workers will bear the brunt of this, and we’ll see jobs gained become job losses. We had a dress rehearsal for this during the Covid-19 pandemic, when aviation companies rapidly cut their workforces when passenger numbers dropped off – with Gatwick Airport employees particularly affected by job losses.

The Future of Air Travel

🛫 Instead, we’d like to see the airport transform itself towards compatibility with smaller, cleaner and quieter “zero emissions” aircraft, requiring very different infrastructure.

Due to the very different weight and volume energy storage requirements of electric or hydrogen propulsion, these aircraft will likely be a very different size and shape to conventional jet fuel powered airliners.  For instance, they will likely fly less fast and less far, and have much smaller passenger capacities.

🛩️ For example, the “zero emissions” aircraft certified in the next decade will most likely be propeller-power aircraft with capacity for about 50 passengers, rather than the 150-200 passengers in the aircraft (e.g. Airbus A320 and Boeing 737) which currently operate from Gatwick. Designing infrastructure for such aircraft requires very different consideration for the runway, terminal and gate layouts, and re-fuelling systems. This doesn’t currently factor into Gatwick’s plans.

⚠️ We are concerned that if Gatwick Airport goes ahead with its Northern Runway proposals, it will waste significant financial resources and time. It should instead hold off on expansion planning until there is more certainty regarding the future of aviation, and in the meantime direct efforts towards future-proofing the airport and associated jobs, for the necessary transformation of air travel.

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