Gatwick Airport Northern Runway: How the environmental impact of more passengers and more flights will be mitigated

Gatwick Airport's plan to bring the Northern Runway into more routine use will bring in 29 million more passengers and have nearly 100,000 more flights per year by 2038.

And with these projections come concerns about the environment - more flights mean more noise and potentially more carbon emissions.

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Before the luanch of the public consultation took place on Wednesday, campaign group CAGNE (Communities Against Gatwick Noise and Emissions) said the plans did 'not meet government policy of ‘making best use of current facilities’ as both runways cannot be used in unison currently due to safety issues' and 'the announcement flies in the face of the climate emergency we are all facing'.

Gatwick Airport's chief planning officer Tim Norwood

CAGNE believes a second runway at Gatwick Airport would add 1MTonnesCO2 on top of Gatwick’s pre Covid flight figures (285,000 aircraft movements a year) plus the planned 40% increase from the main runway that will not be scrutinised.

But at the press conference for the launch of the public consultation, the airport's chief planning officer Tim Norwood said they believe they have addressed all these issues in the plans including reaching net zero emissions by 2050.

He said: "As you would expect the airport the size of Gatwick we have a long established and long standing sustainability policy which covers all the environmental impacts associated with growth and passenger throughput at an airport.

"It’s called our Decade of Change programme and we started it in 2009 and 2021 when Stewart [Wingate, CEO] joined the airport and that takes 10 topics over 10 years and we measure our environmental performance against those topics.

The two runways at Gatwick

"We look at things like noise, air quality, carbon and climate change. We will look at the benefits to our local community, and local residents but also what we can do in terms of the local economy as well.

"Just recently we announced our second Decade of Change programme which looks from 2021 all the way out to 2030.and that has helped to inform some of the measures and mitigation that we will need to put in place to ensure we really limit and where possible reduce the impacts of our operation on the local community and also we really want to amplify and accentuate the economic benefits of this scheme as well.

"One of the most important topics people talk about is aircraft noise.

"We know that our operations have a noise impact on local communities but we have a team that strives to work on a daily basis with our airlines and to work with all the airport community to really try and reduce our impacts from a noise perspective.

Gatwick Airport flights could increase by nearly 100,000 flights a year if the plans to bring the Northern Runway into routine use are given the go ahead

"We work hard with our airlines, we are lucky we have a very modern fleet of aircraft at Gatwick and what you will have seen over the past years is that aircraft are becoming less and less noisy and that has had a benefit in the reduction of the noise footprint to Gatwick.

"With the Northern Runway scheme, we are not expecting the noise impacts to be any worse than the impacts we had in 2017 and that’s because as we grow and we incrasee by the number of flights that will be offset by the quieter engines."

Two initiatives the airport will use to help combat noise for the local community is the Noise Insultation scheme and the Noise 'envelope'.

The Insulation scheme already exists but Mr Norwood said: "What we have done is to extend the Noise Insulation Programme to cover more residential properties and that will be offering a financial package to improve on things like double glazing and ventilation to mitigate the impacts the noise with those properties."

The Noise 'envelope' is based on predicted future contours to provide certainty to the community that noise levels would be limited and would reduce in the future as the airport grows so as to share the benefits of that growth and new technologies with the community.

To help the aviation industry reach net zero carbon emission by 2050, the airport is working with a body called Sustainable Aviation with is the first aviation body in the world to produce a plan to show how UK aviation can get to net zero by 2050.

Mr Norwood said: "There are various aspects within that plan so you have some shorter-term, mid-term and longer term aspects with a trajectory and a growth that shows you can have growth in aviation and also accommodate the transition to a net zero economy.

"The aspects we are looking are things like sustainable aviation fuels.

"In 2018 Stewart [Wingate] welcomed Richard Branson and Virgin into the airport with one of the first flights into the UK using a sustainable aviation fuel. That was an ethanol mix that provided a sustainable aviation fuel element. What we are seeing is a trajectory ad a mandate possibly from government to require airlines to use sustainable aviation fuel and our infrastructure out on the airfield can accommodate those fuels directly into the fuel tanks for the airlines.

"We know it’s safe to use but the challenge for industry and Government is that it produces it at a quantity that makes it readily available and to make sure it’s a commercially viable product so it then cost competitive with the fossil fuel.

"There is a lot of work going into developing hybrid engines moving into electrical aircraft and then ultimately ion the much longer term into hydrogen aircraft.

"Just yesterday there was a flight from Scotland down to Exeter the first Hybrid flight which was over 400 miles that shows that technology is starting to emerge and gives us confidence."

Mr Norwood added: "It’s a really important issue and certainly from an airport perspective and an aviation industry perspective we are fully committed to work as an industry to help the government meet its net zero obligations by 2050."