Heathrow vs Gatwick: It's getting scrappy

The claws come out in the new runway debate as the Airports Commission prepares to begin its public consultation.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 11 Nov 2014

A touch of vituperative banter is expected when two heavyweights square up, but sometimes it can get plain catty. Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye took a few good swipes yesterday, telling the Telegraph that airlines were launching routes from hub airports on the continent rather than using Gatwick, and that the Sussex airport’s second runway plan was ‘primarily about low cost flights to Europe’. Meow.

This comes after this month’s MT Interview with Gatwick chief exec Stewart Wingate, in which he said Heathrow could talk to the hand, with western European hubs so last century anyway. While Gatwick may not be too upset at Heathrow’s stinging comments, however, it might be more concerned with its numbers.

Heathrow revealed strong results yesterday, with revenues up 8.2% to £1.99bn for the nine months to September 30th, buoyed by a 1.5% increase in passenger numbers to 73.4 million. Profits were down to £58m from £266m, but this was primarily because of a one-off boost to 2013’s numbers from the sale of Stansted.

So where do the two stand, as they prepare for the showdown before the Airports Commission, which begins its public consultation in a few weeks?

The case for Heathrow

Most prominent recent backer: Richard Branson, Virgin boss.

  • There are thirty airlines queuing up to use Heathrow, Holland-Kaye claimed, if only it weren’t already running at 98% capacity. If only there were some kind of third runway...
  • Gatwick doesn’t have Heathrow’s capacity to handle the extra passengers. Not only does Heathrow have its plump and new(ish) Terminal Five, but also the Heathrow Express actually gets you into London quickly, unlike Gatwick’s version, an express only in name. Wingate was keen to point out, however, that Gatwick is investing heavily in its facilities.
  • Heathrow is easier to get to. For a national hub, it’s less awkward for travellers from the North, West and Midlands to get to. Gatwick’s on the wrong side of the M25 for a lot of people. On the other hand, of course, if the third runway is really all about London traffic, this shouldn’t be an issue.

The case for Gatwick

Most prominent recent backer: Matthew Gwyther, MT’s esteemed editor.

  • A second runway at Gatwick would only afflict 30,000 residents with noise pollution, Wingate points out, compared to more than 300,000 for Heathrow. What’s more, Wingate told MT that Gatwick would pay the council tax bills for those it did affect. ‘Funnily enough,’ he said, ‘Heathrow hasn’t matched that – they couldn’t afford to.’
  • Landing charges at Heathrow are among the most expensive in the world, at £22 per person, compared to Gatwick’s, which are currently £9 and which would rise to £13, according to Wingate.
  • The Gatwick experience is quicker and easier. Wingate says its car park to terminal times and security queues are notably less than its rival’s.

Read MT''s full interview with Stewart Wingate here.

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