The Track11 plan for airport expansion in Britain

This is a plan for a program of airport expansion in Britain that can commence almost immediately and continue into the long term. Though it applies to all airports in the country, the main focus is on South East England because that is where the greatest problems and shortcomings of the existing policy are.

This plan is complementary to the Track11 High Speed 2 Plan. Though neither plan is actually contingent on the other, there are some shared elements, and together they can form the basis of an integrated transport plan for the entire nation.


Give priority to surface access improvements

Trying to solve connectivity problems by expanding hub airports imposes huge costs upon the public – partly because of more noise and air pollution in highly populated areas, but mainly because of congestion on the roads (and in some cases, the railways). But if the problem is instead addressed by improving road and rail access to airports, decreased congestion and faster journey times benefit airport users and the public alike.

All airports could benefit from surface transport improvements, but it is at the busiest airports that the opportunity for improvement is greatest. Importantly, runway slots can be congestion priced, with the extra revenue used to fund roads and public transport. The need to cater for airport demand would then cease to be a burden and instead become an opportunity.


Connect airports by rail

Rail services between airports will greatly benefit businesses that have located close to an airport, as it will give them easy access to other airports as well.

Airside train services would bring great connectivity benefits as they would make it much easier to fly in to one airport and out of another.

Track11 has proposed an airport link train service, using a combination of existing lines, new lines (based partly on the Central Railway proposal) and High Speed 2. From Gatwick the trains would stop at Reigate, Leatherhead, Byfleet, Heathrow Terminal 5, High Wycombe and Calvert before running via High Speed 2 to Birmingham Airport (with an elevated station between the airport itself and the existing Birmingham International station). Some trains would then continue via the Western branch of HS2 to Crewe, Manchester Airport and Manchester Piccadilly. Others would use the eastern branch of HS2 to reach East Midlands Airport, then East Midlands Parkway and via the MML to Derby and possibly beyond (future extension options include Doncaster Airport and Durham Tees Valley Airport).

Rather than having separate airside trains, the south end of each train would be locked off from the rest. The doors would only open when aligned with platform edge doors at an airport station.

For more information on how airports could be connected by rail, see the Track11 High Speed 2 Plan.


Expand Gatwick not Heathrow

Track11 specifically rejects the Airports Commission's conclusion that another Heathrow runway would deliver greater economic benefits than another Gatwick runway. The Airports Commission do not understand how hubs work, and have thus greatly overestimated their importance. They have also failed to consider the potential for value capture and surface transport improvements.

Show more detailed criticism

Although another runway at Heathrow may be superficially attractive, the disadvantages would be overwhelming: as well as blighting thousands more people with aircraft noise, it would be a significant additional source of air pollution that the prevailing winds would carry into London. It would also make the missed approach procedure much more complicated and hazardous, further exacerbating an already stressful situation for pilots.

Expanding Gatwick would be much less environmentally destructive than expanding Heathrow. The intention to eventually expand Gatwick has been known for decades, so local residents have had plenty of time to move elsewhere if it bothers them.

Another Gatwick runway directly threatens three areas of ancient woodland. However

• It should be possible to design the terminal in such a way as to preserve Huntsgreen Wood.
• The northern part of Rowley Wood would be lost, but the effects of this could be mitigated by expanding the southern part.
• Bonnetts Coppice is relatively small and is near the boundary of the expanded airport; transplanting it to another site nearby may be feasible and is certainly worth attempting.

The increasing passenger numbers mean big improvements will be needed to Gatwick's road and rail links. These include but are not limited to:

• New roads to the east and west to reduce congestion on the A25 and other local roads.
• Upgrading and extending the Fastway busway.
• A railway tunnel from Battersea to Coulsdon (to reduce line congestion and cut ten minutes off the Gatwick Express journey time).
• Upgrading the Gatwick to Brighton railway to four track for its entire length.
• The connection to Heathrow and HS2 (see above).


Make better use of existing infrastructure

Britain has many disused and underused runways, some of which would be very well suited to airport development. There should be a plan to utilize some of those; instead development is haphazard, with Southend Airport expanding but Manston Airport ceasing to operate.

The needs of full service and low cost airlines can be very different. Full service airlines typically prefer their airports to be near capacity so they can attract interlining passengers. They need long runways to cater for large widebody aircraft. And they require terminals to have airbridges as this makes it more convenient for passengers. Whereas low cost airlines prefer terminals to be well below capacity to minimize the effects of delays. Most only have single aisle aircraft so don't require long runways. Airbridges aren't essential – indeed the cost and the effect on turnaround time means some airlines may prefer to use stairs.

Lyneham

The former RAF Lyneham (Wilts) would be a very good site for a specialist low cost airport. Because of Heathrow, residents along the M4 corridor have a greater propensity to fly than the general population, and businesses are more reliant on international connectivity. Lyneham's proximity to the M4 would make it a convenient alternative to Heathrow.

Alconbury

Alconbury has the advantages of excellent road connections, potentially good rail connections, and relatively few people living under the flightpath. The SERAS study identified it as suitable for airport development, and it made it through to the public consultation stage in the form of an overambitious plan for a 24 hour airport focusing on freight as well as low cost airline operations. That was eventually rejected, but the location is still suitable for a more modest low cost airport.

Manston

Manston Airport (Kent), which is currently unused, has the advantage of good roads and a potentially extendable runway, but suffers from the disadvantage of its distance from London and its coastal location limiting its catchment area. Rail services would make it much more attractive. Track11 recommends taking advantage of its currently closed state to construct a railway under the runway, enabling all trains from Ramsgate to Minster/Canterbury West/Ashford and Sandwich/Dover/Folkestone to stop at the airport.

North Weald

North Weald (Essex) is currently used by general aviation. From a land transport point of view, it is in an excellent location to serve London as a low cost airport: it is near the terminus of the Central Line (which could easily be extended) and also near the M25 and M11. A potential disadvantage is its proximity to Stansted could curtail operations somewhat. It may be incompatible with expanding Stansted to two runways, and finding alternative locations for the displaced general aviation activities may be difficult now that Boreham airfield has closed. Nevertheless the potential benefits of airport development at North Weald make it worthy of serious consideration.

Biggin Hill

Biggin Hill Airport is inside the Greater London Boundary, and could easily be reached by extending Croydon Tramlink. Its runway is sufficiently long for Boeing 737s to use, but Bromley Council has imposed restrictions that ban farepaying passengers, limiting it to general aviation use. Lifting the ban would be a relatively cheap way to provide more capacity. However the effect of noise on local residents (which is the reason the ban was imposed) would still be a major limitation on capacity there, as that (not runway length) would restrict what kinds of aircraft could use it.


Make provision for longer term demand growth

Throughout the rest of the first half of the 21st century, it is almost certain that low cost airlines will grow faster than full service airlines, and very likely that the relative decline of Europe will result in a declining proportion of interlining passengers as more direct flights become available. But catering for the most likely scenarios is not enough, and we also need to think beyond the next 35 years. Therefore different options must be kept open to cater for all eventualities:

To cater for the rapid growth of the low cost airline sector

If the low cost airlines become dominant for long haul flights, more long runways are likely to be needed; however runway provision need not be concentrated at hub airports.

• The former airfields at Upper Heyford (Oxon) and Thurleigh (Beds) should be reserved for future airport development.


To cater for the growth of the full service airline sector

If the full service airlines continue to dominate the long haul sector and recapture market share for shorter flights, expanding large airports could be better value than building new small airports.

• Land near Pilning (South Glos) should be reserved for a new airport. As well as being close to Bristol, this location has excellent transport links to London, Birmingham, South Wales and Western England. The site was identified by the SERAS study as suitable for a large airport.

• Eventual construction of another Stansted runway should not be ruled out.


To cater for sustained very high growth

If London retains its international importance as global growth continues undiminished, eventually all the above plans will be insufficient.

• Provision should be made for a two runway airport at Ockendon (Essex), replacing London City Airport and possibly also Southend Airport, to be constructed in the more distant future (certainly not before 2050; possibly much later). The SERAS study identified Ockendon as a suitable location for a large airport, although for political reasons the option was not brought forward to the public consultation stage.


To cater for more noisy aircraft

Despite the average size of aircraft increasing, improving technology is making them quieter overall, and this trend is expected to continue. But propfans (aka unducted fans) are significantly more efficient but also much noisier than conventional turbofan engines.  Though not a likely outcome, it is possible that very high fuel prices will make noisy aircraft commercially attractive again.

• If fuel prices are high, and propfan engines remain very noisy but the most fuel efficient alternative, the feasibility of building an airport off the south coast near Brighton should be investigated.