The Capacity Challenge
Business Traveller UK|November 2019
The UK’s airports have ambitious expansion plans to accommodate growing passenger numbers
Jenni Reid

Aviation can be an unpredictable business. More than ten years have passed since the government approved plans to build a third runway at London Heathrow, for example, and while the project has since been given parliamentary assent, it is still not certain that it will ever be completed.

What is in no doubt is that the number of people passing through airports will continue to increase. The Department for Transport has said it expects annual passenger numbers to rise to 435 million by 2050, up from 284 million in 2018. Still, that growth may prove to be slower than previously thought; a recent UBS report showed that one in five travellers in the US and Europe was reducing the number of journeys they took owing to “flight shame” over their environmental impact.

There’s barely an airport in the UK that isn’t targeting higher traffic and expanding to do so. We round up ten that are planning to grow over the coming years.

1 GATWICK

Cost: £1.1 billion

Estimated completion: Mid-2020s

While debate over Heathrow’s third runway rumbles on, Gatwick has begun preparing a planning application to bring its standby runway into regular use. It would see the maintenance and emergency runway – which runs parallel to the main one – move marginally further north to comply with international safety requirements. The airport says it would only be used for “smaller departing aircraft”, and could potentially be brought into use by the mid-2020s.

Earlier this year the airport announced numerous other upgrades that will cost more than £1 billion in total, including a western extension to Pier 6, which it says will allow half a million more North Terminal passengers to embark and disembark via a jetty-served stand, and improved gate waiting areas. It is also investing in self-service bag-drop facilities, expanding departure lounges in both terminals and adding a new taxiway.

2 MANCHESTER

COST: £1 billion

Estimated completion: Phase 1 in 2020, Phase 2 in 2024

The north of England’s hub flies to 210 destinations (versus Heathrow’s 203) and has connecting flights to 16 domestic airports and four in Ireland. It is currently edging towards the 30 million annual passenger mark for the first time, and its runways have the capacity to handle 55 million passengers a year.

Yet many parts of its three terminals look dated, particularly Terminal 1, which has seen few significant upgrades since opening in the 1960s. Manchester’s potential for growth is also constrained by its airfield, which is not fully optimised and can lead to bottlenecks.

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