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Thank you for all the kind and constructive words about yesterday's newsletter.
Many of you will have seen the story in today’s Times "Gatwick gets watchdog approval to add 50,000 flights on new runway". This quotes the Civil Aviation Authority (the UK's airspace regulator) saying, "The environmental impact relating to this proposal is assessed as nil."
We've dug into this.
It turns out that the decision the CAA published yesterday was a narrow and technical one, and, for the reasons set out below, not a significant one. But it conceals a range of important wider issues, such as why the country's airspace regulator appears to have no role to play in the expansion of a major airport and the possibility of 50,000 extra flights each year with huge environmental and noise consequences. We will continue to pursue those points over the months ahead, in line with yesterday’s letter.
We note The Times has downgraded the CAA from "regulator" to "watchdog" which feeds perfectly into the theme of yesterday's letter to the SoS. I wonder which kind they had in mind?
Gatwick Obviously Not
The CAA decision, published yesterday, was that emergency runway ASCP did not require public consultation because, amongst other things, "…The environmental impact relating to this proposal is assessed as nil…" The Times stated that this meant the scheme had "…passed a significant legal hurdle…"
At first glance this is worrying. But it's important to be clear what decision the CAA had to make and what it said.
The ASCP the CAA was responding to was a narrow technical one. Specifically it was that a document called the "Aeronautical Information Publication" (AIP) should be amended if and when Gatwick's emergency runway is redeveloped. At the moment the AIP says that the emergency runway will only be used when the main runway is non-operational and that it cannot be used simultaneously with the main runway. If the emergency runway project goes ahead both those facts would be wrong and the AIP would have to be changed. The CAA decided that the amendment to the AIP in itself did not require consultation and would not have environmental impacts.
The CAA was clear that it was not consenting to the emergency runway redevelopment or to any increase the number of flights permitted (which under current law are matters for the planning process) but solely whether the AIP should be amended if the development received planning consent and was implemented. In this context we don't think its decision is surprising.
The decision the CAA has taken is a technical and predictable one. It does not make development of the emergency runway any more likely. In that context, you may have seen Gatwick's announcement that its traffic might return to recent levels within three to four years. That was before both Virgin and BA announced that they planned to leave Gatwick.
Our view is that there is now no case for additional capacity at Gatwick and that the regulator needs to engage properly with the insane threat of airport expansion.
May 6th 2020
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