With the UK government set to decide tomorrow on which airport gets a multi-billion-dollar expansion, the man who led the government-commissioned review on the matter has claimed the case for choosing Heathrow over Gatwick is now "overwhelming".
Gatwick was mostly a European short-haul airport while Heathrow handled passengers from around the world, plus "hugely more air freight – 150 times as much as Gatwick", wrote Sir Howard Davies, chair of the Airports Commission, in a Sunday newspaper.
He added that the extensive logistics infrastructure surrounding Heathrow in west London now would be "hugely costly" to replicate around Gatwick, to the south of the capital.
Davies aired his views as UK the transport secretary, Chris Grayling, told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show that the decision would be made at a cabinet committee meeting on Tuesday.
Grayling rejected suggestions that cabinet ministers had already decided to back Heathrow expansion plan.
The Airports Commission recommended Heathrow in July last year but the government has delayed its decision.
"About 70 per cent of [Gatwick’s] tourist passengers are Brits going to the sun. Sadly, relatively few residents of Marbella and Corfu come here for their summer break," wrote Davies in The Daily Telegraph.
"At Heathrow the tourist traffic is largely inbound. With our huge balance of payments deficit we need more high-spending American and Asian tourists to balance the books. And Heathrow has hugely more air freight, some 150 times as much as Gatwick by value. High-value exports go through the airport and its extensive infrastructure of logistics companies. Replicating that infrastructure around Gatwick would be hugely costly."
Davies said the problems of air and noise pollution could be resolved, adding: "So the case for Heathrow is overwhelming today."
Rival Gatwick hit back yesterday saying the issues of air and noise pollution had prevented previous expansion plans and could never be resolved. It compared the issue to the hit film, "Groundhog Day".
Gatwick chief executive Stewart Wingate said his airport’s plans were less costly and would have a lower environmental impact.
"Airport expansion has been in a holding pattern for decades," Wingate said in a media release. "We are finally getting to the point of decision again. The choice is crystal clear – growth at Gatwick or Groundhog Day at Heathrow. There is one reason why Heathrow has repeatedly tried and failed to expand – its location. Many things have changed in this debate but Heathrow is still based at Heathrow."
Image: View from an airliner as it comes in for landing at Heathrow, 2007 (Wikimedia Commons)