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Need and Alternatives

Need and Alternatives


The Covid-19 Pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic had a devastating impact on the global aviation industry in 2020. Gatwick, along with all other UK airports, experienced a significant reduction in passenger traffic levels as a result of both Government imposed restrictions on air travel and reduced passenger demand, driven by low consumer confidence. UK passenger volumes in 2020 were 78% down on volumes for 2019. It is expected that Government travel restrictions will continue to have an impact on passenger demand and traffic levels throughout 2021, but that by the end of 2021 traffic levels will start to recover.

While the immediate outlook therefore remains challenging, there is confidence across the aviation industry that passenger and airline demand at Gatwick Airport will return to previous levels over the course of the next few years and then continue to grow thereafter.

Overall, updated forecasts predict that it will take approximately four to five years for passenger traffic at Gatwick Airport to return to levels seen in 2019 and that, by the end of the 2020s, passenger levels at Gatwick Airport will have returned broadly to where they would have been had the pandemic not occurred.  This reflects the inherent strength of demand for air travel generally, but particularly at Gatwick Airport, and the constraints on airport capacity in London and the south-east. 

UK Aviation Demand

The UK airports handled a record 300 million passengers in 2019, of which the London airports accounted for 181 million or 60% of the total activity. Demand in the London system has been subject to strong growth, with over 34 million passengers added in the five-year period to 2019.  

The latest demand forecasts from the Department for Transport predicted continued growth in demand of around 1.7% per annum in the long term (to 2050). This period was forecast to see demand increase by an additional 230 million passengers across the UK’s airports. Recent short-term performance pre-Covid-19 has already outperformed the Department for Transport’s projections.

It is widely recognised that airports in London and the South East of England are increasingly facing longer term capacity issues and, even with a third runway at Heathrow being considered, the Department for Transport forecasts show that demand will outstrip capacity in the London airports system by the mid-2030s.

The forecasts observe that Heathrow and Gatwick are already ‘full’, whilst Luton is operating close to its planning limit. By 2030, an additional 50 million+ passengers are forecast in the London market - far in excess of today’s available capacity, indicating significant need for capacity development.

The Need for Capacity at Gatwick Airport

Gatwick Airport is a key piece of national infrastructure, an economic engine for local and regional growth, and the airport of choice for millions of passengers; serving an extensive catchment with a growing population. In 2019, it was ranked 12th in the world for the number of long-haul destinations served. Gatwick contributed £5.3 billion to the UK economy (pre-pandemic) and has supported over 85,000 jobs.

In 2019 Gatwick Airport handled some 285,000 aircraft movements, serving over 46.6 million passengers travelling to 228 destinations with 53 different airlines. Until 2017, Gatwick had the world’s busiest single runway (55 aircraft movements per hour), and still has the world’s busiest single runway operation during the day.

Whilst the forecasts suggest that some incremental growth is possible in response to intense demand, in practical operational terms, by normal standards, Gatwick as a single runway airport is ‘full’. 

A key benefit of the Project is enhanced operational resilience, particularly the ability for the airport to recover from unexpected events. The Project would:

Alternatives Considered

To address increasing demand, the 2018 Draft Masterplan and the Final 2019 Gatwick Airport Master Plan considered the following scenarios.



Scenario 1:

where Gatwick remains a single-runway operation using the existing main runway. This scenario would use technology to increase the capacity of the main runway, leading to incremental growth through more efficient operations.

Scenario 2:

where the existing northern runway is routinely used together with the main runway.

Scenario 3:

where GAL continues to safeguard for an additional runway to the south.

The do minimum option (Scenario 1) would restrict future growth and Gatwick’s ability to contribute to meeting future demand for increased aviation capacity.  This option would not allow Gatwick to maintain best use of its existing runways as only one runway would be operational at any time. 

GAL is not actively pursuing Scenario 3 in light of the Government’s support for the third runway at Heathrow, but considers it in the national interest for land to continue to be safeguarded to allow for a new runway to be constructed to the south of the airport, if it is required in the future.

GAL is pursuing Scenario 2 and, therefore, the current assessment work relates to Scenario 2, given that it results in the following benefits.

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