A new report from the London Assembly’s Transport Committee has found that the airport capacity in London is currently underused, with some London gateways having more than half of their runway slots free.
According to the report ‘Airport Capacity in London’, even London Heathrow Airport – which is currently running at 99% runway capacity – could potentially fly an additional 20 million passengers every year if larger aircraft were used.
The Transport Committee’s report has argued that existing airport capacity in London, including at the busier Heathrow and Gatwick airports, could be used more effectively.
The research found that:
Stansted Airport has 47% of runway slots available
Luton Airport has 51% of runway slots available
Gatwick Airport has 12% of runway slots available
At 99% capacity, Heathrow Airport’s runway capacity is nearly full, but evidence suggests that increasing aircraft size would allow it to increase capacity
However, to encourage passengers to switch from using Heathrow, the report says improving transport access from central London to Gatwick, Luton and Stansted is needed.
This includes building better rail connections and actively promoting public transport.
Stansted Airport suggested that it could attract 1.5 million more passengers per year if the rail journey time from London was reduced from 45 to 30 minutes.
The report also revealed that in 2010, 127 million people used London’s airports and most, including those using Heathrow, flew direct – point to point – to their destinations (78%) rather than use the airports to transfer, which may question arguments for the need for an additional hub airport to boost London’s economy.
Meanwhile, 75% of flights from Heathrow, the UK's only major international hub airport, are short haul and London remains the best connected European city across the 23 fastest growing economies.
In addition, runway constraints at Heathrow and other airports might not be the reason for fewer flights to emerging economies, the report said, but – as new evidence commissioned for the report shows – postcode preferences by local passengers.
Data published by the Transport Committee shows that London’s airports predominantly serve local geographic areas and therefore local demand may be a major influence in determining where airlines chose to fly.
Of the 127 million passengers served by London Airports in 2010, approximately two thirds (85 million) were from the East or South East England and 47 million passengers were travelling to or from a London borough.
As a result, local demand for airports must be considered by the Airport Commission in its assessment of the different options for addressing airport capacity including the Mayor’s proposal for a new hub airport in the Thames Estuary.
Caroline Pidgeon, chair of the London Assembly’s Transport Committee, said: “Evidence we received shows that the Airport Commission must examine whether better use of existing airport capacity could be an intelligent cost-effective alternative to building new airports or runways.
“The need for additional hub capacity is also under debate, with strong data showing rather than runway capacity limiting airlines ability to fly to emerging markets, it could be low passenger demand from each airport’s geographical area. As 700,000 residents already suffer from noise pollution as a result of Heathrow flights, we also hope that any plans to expand Heathrow can soon be laid to rest.
“Currently London sees 130 million passengers traveling through our airports each year. The challenge for the government and decision-makers is to find the best way to support the UK’s economy globally while ensuring Londoners are not adversely affected by worsening noise and air pollution from planes flying over the capital. In the short term using existing capacity in a smarter way may be the most cost effective solution.”
Later this year the Airports Commission will produce its interim report on the UK’s future aviation requirements. The Transport Committee’s report seeks to inform its findings.