In September 2013, the UK Government launched the Airports Commission to find short, medium and long-term solutions to the country’s growing capacity issue.

Though the final report is not due until the middle of 2015, the team has already reached a provisional conclusion:

"We will need some net additional runway capacity in the south-east of England in the coming decades," said the commission’s chairman Sir Howard Davies. "To rely only on runways currently in operation would be likely to produce a distinctly suboptimal solution for passengers, connectivity and the economy, and would also almost certainly not be the best solution in terms of minimising the overall carbon impact of flights and travel to and from airports."

A matter of opinion

Davies’ statement contradicts a number of antidevelopment arguments, namely that passenger forecasts are inaccurate, that larger planes

will eliminate the need for airport expansion, that airport traffic could be diverted to less-busy areas of the country and restricting growth would be the most eco-friendly policy.

Installing a third runway at Heathrow, expanding Gatwick or Stansted, or building a new airport in the Thames Estuary are the main development solutions currently on the table. Each has its own merits and drawbacks.

Heathrow vs Thames Estuary

"Heathrow is better located for passengers, business and jobs. Why build from scratch at a new hub when we can build on the strength that already exists around Heathrow today?"
– Colin Matthews, Heathrow chief executive

"[The Heathrow expansion] would be a disastrous outcome for Londoners, nor would it solve our aviation capacity crisis as a fourth runway would need to be in the planning process before a third was even open."
– Boris Johnson, London Mayor


"A two-runway Gatwick, as part of a constellation of three major airports surrounding London, will also provide flexibility in an industry where the only constant is change… If Heathrow builds its runway, it will be the death knell of low-cost flying for a generation."
– Stewart Wingate, Gatwick chief executive

"When people begin to realise what is likely to hit them, there will be a tidal wave of public resistance."
– Brendon Sewill, chairman of the Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign


"Almost overnight, Stansted could double the number of flights it handles, without any need for significant investment in new infrastructure."
– Charlie Cornish, Manchester Airport Group (owners of Stansted) chief executive

"With the airport operating at only half its permitted capacity, a second runway is completely unnecessary on business grounds, and it would be completely unacceptable on environmental grounds."
– Peter Sanders, Stop Stansted Expansion chairman