The Airports Commission and the capacity debate

The Airports Commission, led by Sir Howard Davies, was established by the Government in 2012 to consider how the UK could maintain its status as an international aviation hub and in particular provide new capacity in the south east. The Commission was asked to report to the Government no later than the end of 2013 on:

  • its assessment of the evidence on the nature, scale and timing of the steps needed to maintain the UK’s global hub status; and

  • its recommendations for immediate actions to improve the use of existing runway capacity in the next five years – consistent with credible long term options.

The Commission was also asked to report no later than summer 2015 on:

  • its assessment of the options for meeting the UK’s international connectivity needs, including their economic, social and environmental impact;

  • its recommendation(s) for the optimum approach to meeting any needs; and

  • its recommendation(s) for ensuring that the need is met as expeditiously as practicable within the required timescale.

As part of its work the Commission invited all UK airports and scheme promoters to submit proposals for providing additional airport/runway capacity for consideration. 

In December 2013, the Airports Commission published its Interim Report to the Government on its review into airport capacity and connectivity in the UK which concluded that there was a need for one net additional runway to be in operation in the south east by 2030. Its analysis also indicated that there was likely to be a demand case for a second additional runway to be operational by 2050. 

The Commission included on its shortlist for further detailed study proposals for new runways at two locations:

  • Gatwick Airport: a new runway over 3,000m in length spaced sufficiently south of the existing runway to permit a fully independent operation.

  • Heathrow Airport: two potential runway options:

  • A new 3,500m runway constructed to the north west of the existing airport, as proposed by Heathrow Airport Ltd, and spaced sufficiently to permit fully independent operation.

  • An extension of the existing northern runway to the west, as proposed by Heathrow Hub Ltd, lengthening it to at least 6,000m and enabling it to be operated as two separate runways: one for departures and one for arrivals. 

Scheme promoters were asked to develop these proposals further and to undertake a wide range of assessments required under the Commission’s appraisal and assessment framework. 

The Commission also set out in its Interim Report a range of measures for making best use of existing capacity in the short to medium term.

In July 2015, the Airports Commission published its Final Report to the Government. The Commission unanimously concluded that the Heathrow Northwest Runway option in combination with the significant package of measures to address its environmental and community impacts presented the strongest case and is the preferred option.

Following further work and analysis by the Government on four key areas  – air quality, noise, carbon emissions and managing the impacts on local communities, the Government announced on 25 October 2016 that a new north-west runway at Heathrow Airport was its preferred option to deliver airport expansion in the south-east – click here to see the Secretary of State’s statement. Click here to see the Government’s press announcement.

The Government is currently consulting on a draft Airports National Policy Statement - click here to see consultation document. The closing date for responses is 25 May 2017.

The Government has also published background information and rationale for the Government’s preferred option –click here to see.