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London airport expansion could have major impact across the capital

London airport expansion could have major impact across the capital
It has been the subject of fierce debate in the last few years, but plans to expand both Gatwick and Heathrow Airport continue to persist as they push for additional runways at each facility.

The Heathrow Airport third runway issue has been rumbling on since 2006 when initial plans for the expansion were approved, but due to overwhelming opposition from local residents and campaign groups the proposals were scrapped by the Labour government in 2010.

Now officials at Gatwick Airport have started to push for a second runway, claiming that it would be the best option for the UK as more and more people look to use the London airports for holidays or business travel.

Heathrow and Gatwick are the UK's first and second busiest airports with the former being the third most used in the entire world, with tens of millions of people passing through the gates every year. With this in mind officials at both of these airports are keen to expand their surroundings to cope with the demand that they come under on a daily basis. Heathrow currently has five terminal buildings serving a whole range of flights, ranging from domestic to long haul international services and the introduction of a third runway is designed to free up a lot of space in the schedule, meaning that passengers will not experience as many delays.

However, due to its location near built-up areas like Harlington, Hounslow, Longford and Cranford, many residents have been concerned about the increased noise pollution that the raised number of low-flying aircraft will cause.

One possible solution to avoid having to expand Heathrow beyond its current confines is the creation of a new hub within the Thames Estuary. The Sunday Telegraph reported that the proposed 'Boris Island' would be able to act as a tertiary option for holidaymakers but this has been slammed by the chief executive of Virgin Atlantic.

The airline's Steve Ridgeway believes that an expansion of Heathrow is the only option available in terms of affordability. In an interview with the news provider he also argued that the only way an airport can effectively function is through the creation of a hub and that passengers would be apprehensive about travelling to an airport they are not comfortable flying from.

Mr Ridgeway told The Sunday Telegraph: "If you're going to connect the UK to the world you need to be doing that through a hub where you can build traffic and have viable routes. It's everything else that goes with it, moving the whole locus of the economy. Right now, and for the foreseeable future, in affordability terms, that is Heathrow."

Virgin's chief executive also noted that for the likes of Heathrow and Gatwick to provide an improved international service then they need to remain within striking distance of central London, due to the key transport links that allow holidaymakers and commuters to travel easily between the centre and the airports.

Like Heathrow, Gatwick is planning a number of expansions that will help to allow it to compete some of the bigger airports across the world in terms of revenue. While the second runway is a proposal that is currently still in the pipeline, officials maintain that no work can take place until 2019. This is due to the 1979 agreement with the local community stating that, at time of signing, the airport would not expand for another 40 years, but it does not mean that the facility can not plan for a bigger future.

There are a host of benefits to passengers, airline officials and the construction industry should plans at Gatwick and Heathrow go ahead as a number of firms will be able to create jobs to cope with the demands of building new facilities, while passengers will be given more options in terms of destinations due to the raised frequency of flights.

Gatwick is pushing for an expansion after the Department for Transport (DfT) stated that London's airport would be full by 2030. This has prompted officials at the capital's second largest facility to detail plans of how it can be improved and expanded. Gatwick has space, capability and the financial resources to build a new runway which could also look to take some of the pressure off Heathrow. Officials also highlighted that expanding Gatwick would cause less harm to the environment than third runway at Heathrow and would also cost less than building the Thames Estuary hub.

Julia Gregory, Gatwick's head of surface transport, said: "With approximately 40 million passenger and staff journeys to and from the airport each year, the demand for travel to Gatwick is substantial.

"It is crucial that access continues to improve in order to support our sustainable growth from 34 to 45 million by 2030 and that we maintain our status as the most accessible airport serving London. Increasing accessibility from London and the wider catchment area, and improving existing infrastructure is key to this."

While the issues surrounding both of London's main airports still remain unresolved a decision is moving ever closer and the capital could be set to reap the benefits of bigger facilities.

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Date: 26/10/2012 16:14:00

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