74 Million Annual Passengers: Gatwick Airport’s Expansion Plans

London Gatwick Airport has historically been the UK’s second-busiest airport by passenger traffic. It retained this ranking in 2020, albeit with a far lower number of passengers due to the impacts of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. While the crisis has prompted some carriers to reduce their operations at Gatwick, the airport has big plans for the future.

Gatwick bridge
What does the future hold for Gatwick and its famous airbridge? Photo: Getty Images

Making best use of a single runway

London Gatwick (LGW) has consistently ranked among the world’s busiest single-runway airports. Its sole operational runway is 3,316 meters long, and bears the headings 08R/26L. There is a second, shorter landing strip located adjacent to it, namely the 2,565-meter runway 08L/26R. However, these cannot be used simultaneously due to their proximity.

As such, Gatwick has the potential to become congested at busy times. It consistently handled more than 45 million passengers a year, before COVID-19 caused this to fall to just 10 million in 2020. As air travel begins to recover, the airport is looking to optimize its single-runway operations. Speaking at the World Aviation Festival, CEO Stewart Wingate explained:

There are two pathways we’re currently pursuing. One is all about the use of technology, the optimization of the existing single runway, and developing the number of movements from 55 to 60 per hour. This isn’t about building physical infrastructure: it’s about the control of the aircraft on and around the runway and apron areas.”

London Gatwick Airport
Gatwick can presently only use one runway at a time. Photo: Andre Wadman via Wikimedia Commons

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Potential for a two-runway operation?

As you can see in the photograph above, Gatwick‘s two runways are too close together to enable dual operation under the current circumstances. As such, it only uses the shorter runway if the longer one is under maintenance. Otherwise, it serves as a taxiway. However, it may see more use in years to come with the right infrastructure. Wingate explains:

One of the things we’ve looked at in recent years is how we can use the two runways together. The way that we’ll do it is to have all of the instrument landing system technology on the main runway, and then use the avionics of the aircraft to take off using both runways.”

Gatwick Getty
Gatwick is eyeing a 59% increase in passenger numbers within two decades. Photo: Getty Images

Planned increases in passenger numbers

But what would this proposed dual runway operation mean for Gatwick‘s passenger numbers? As it happens, the increased capacity could raise the annual figure by nearly 60% compared to the 46.6 million passengers that used LGW in 2019. Wingate explains that:

The northern runway will be for taking off the aircraft only. There’ll be a proportion of taking off aircraft on the main runway, and all of the planes will land on the main runway under current traffic patterns. That will give us the opportunity to grow the airport to about 74 million [annual] passengers, with high levels of resilience, by 2038.”

While this is a fairly long-term goal, the airport has several milestones in place to keep it on track. Having recently completed a consultation into the expansion, it hopes to get the green light for the project by 2024. All being well, this could see the northern runway open operationally in 2029. This would give Gatwick nine years to reach its 74 million target.

What do you make of Gatwick’s expansion plans? Have you ever flown to or from London’s second airport? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.