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Existing London airports are underused, concludes London Assembly report

The London Assembly transport committee this week published a report on the capacity of London’s airports and whether there is a need for new runways. Its headline finding is that “Airport capacity in London is currently underused with some London airports having more than half of their runway slots free ..”  While Heathrow is running at 99% capacity,  the report notes, Stansted Airport has 47% of runway slots available, Luton Airport has 51% free and Gatwick Airport has 12% free. Even Heathrow, it argues, might potentially fly an additional 20 million passengers every year if larger aircraft were used.

AEF had presented evidence to the committee and many of our comments, including on demand forecasting, the small proportion of business demand and climate change were referenced in the report.

The role of the London Assembly is to scrutinise the policy and activity of London Mayor Boris Johnson and his office. In contrast to Johnson, who is pushing for urgent Government approval for a large new hub airport, the Assembly questions the economic need for new capacity as well as whether expansion of London airports would be possible within environmental limits.

Challenging assertions from the Mayor and others about how lack of runway capacity is preventing flights to ‘emerging economies’ the Assembly suggests (as pointed out in a briefing submitted to the Committee by AEF) that it may simply be the case that there is not sufficient demand for such flights. “Contrary to popular belief,”, the report argues, “the analysis shows that each airport in London, including Heathrow, serves a geographically distinct local market, as well as central London to a greater or lesser extent. It is this local market which determines airlines’ provision of flights to different destinations in the first instance. .. Thus it can be local demand rather than a lack of airport capacity that constrains flights to emerging markets.”

The committee also casts doubt on the Mayor’s assertions about the importance of hub traffic, arguing “The case for increasing airport capacity particularly hub capacity is not clear-cut. The economic importance of providing more airport capacity is disputed and a key economic consideration is local demand for air travel.”

Both the Assembly and the Mayor remain firmly opposed to any expansion at Heathrow, given the scale of likely local environmental impacts.

The full report can be downloaded from the London Assembly or from our website. See also AEF briefings on airport capacity and connectivity.