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London’s main airports to reach bursting point in 2030

As Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted reach capacity, regional airports will be left to cope with overspill

London’s major airports will be full by 2030, the government has admitted, as the capital’s mayor, Boris Johnson, stepped up pressure on the coalition to abandon its opposition to building new runways.

The growth forecasts showed that Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted would reach capacity within 20 years, leaving regional airports to cope with the overspill.

Daniel Moylan, the deputy chairman of the mayor’s transport authority, said the figures were an “urgent wake-up call. Britain is in serious danger of running out of aviation capacity where it is needed. The government has to react with some urgency because 2030 is not far away.”

The Department for Transport (DfT) published forecasts on Thursday in response to a report on aviation emissions by the Committee on Climate Change, which was set up by the Labour government to advise on carbon dioxide reduction targets.

The document estimated that by 2030 Heathrow would handle 85m passengers a year, compared with 65m now, with the capital’s top five airports, including Luton and London City, carrying a maximum of 185m by 2040. At that point, regional airports would have overtaken the south-east of England, carrying 210m passengers.

“The central forecasts suggest that without new runways the three largest London airports will be at capacity by 2030, and all growth beyond 2040 will occur at regional airports,” the report states. According to the DfT, airline passenger numbers in the UK would more than double from 210m in 2010 to 470m by 2050.

The aviation minister, Theresa Villiers, said regional airports could handle the looming passenger overspill. “I firmly believe that regional airports have an important role to play right across the country, providing domestic and international connections and contributing to local economies. We are undertaking a review of our aviation policy and are seeking views on how we can create the right conditions for regional airports to flourish, and how they can support the rebalancing of the economy across the UK,” she said.

Manchester airport, the UK’s largest airport outside London, said: “It is not realistic to assume that someone in Kent will come to Manchester to fly to Dubai. But it is realistic to say that someone in Sheffield could choose Manchester to fly to New York, when they currently use Heathrow.”

However, BAA which owns Heathrow said the DfT forecasts underlined the need for an expanded hub airport to handle increased numbers of business passengers and contradicted the government’s policy of ruling out a third runway at Heathrow.

According to the DfT, demand for international business travel from UK airports would nearly double by 2030. “Without a credible aviation policy the government risks handing this economic growth to our European competitors,” said BAA.

The British Air Transport Association, which represents British Airways, easyJet and Virgin Atlantic, said residents in the south-east would have to abandon short-haul flights to Europe.

“The coalition’s rash decision to ban desperately needed expansion in the form of new runway capacity at London’s airports means that, simply to maintain projected growth in inbound long-haul tourism, the government expects British people, especially those who live in the south-east, to stop taking holidays overseas. This is completely unacceptable,” said Simon Buck, its chief executive. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds