Runway Success

Stephen Grant wages into the Gatwick v Heathrow battle

Bad news everyone. Britain is a runway short of a future.

Already, I appreciate this sounds like a modern-day replacement for ‘a sandwich short of a picnic’, but this is no idiom for eccentricity, this is serious stuff. In order for Britain to compete in the global market of airline business, we need to expand our capacity.

Specifically, if we don’t build another runway in the South East, we’re doomed. Or at least, we’ll need planes to land on top of each other before touching down. And we have to do all this by 2030 (16 years from now. Not half past eight this evening. This is real life, not 24.)

At the time of writing, the airport’s commission has written off Boris Johnson’s idea of a £90bn airport in the Thames Estuary, quoting a variety of reasons that can easily be boiled down to the word ‘silly’. And yes, you read that right, 90 billion pounds. Is it even possible for that much money to exist, let alone be spent? So the race to expand Britain’s airport capacity has become a two horse race between Gatwick and Heathrow.

Let me nail my colours to the mast early on. I love Gatwick. Or at least, I hate Gatwick significantly less than I hate Heathrow. It’s small enough to not get lost in. It’s got an M&S. It’s got a monorail – so you can briefly feel like you’re in the future.

They’ve even had a marketing revamp so the signs no longer look like military warnings, and are now in the sort of friendly font someone uses when designing a home-made poster.

Most importantly, you can get to and from it relatively painlessly. People forget that the whole point of an airport is that it’s somewhere you go through, not to. Heathrow looks accessible on a map but as we all know, you’re inviting the nightmare of a stationary M25 or weaving train and tube to the centre of London and back out again.

I find the journey so fraught when I finally get there I don’t expect check in desks, I expect to see Frodo chucking his ring into a pit of fire. Getting to Heathrow is a pre-journey journey so bad that if I had the option of flying there from Gatwick, then I’d do that instead.

I’d hope that many Sussex-based readers would agree with me. But it’s likely half of them would still prefer to see this new runway in Heathrow. Because with it would come additional noise, congestion, pollution, and the destruction of numerous homes around the airport.

Note: those people have been told they will be compensated to the tune of market value plus 25%. Maybe that’s why none of my friends in Crawley seem to bother with interior decoration. They’re playing the long game.

And realistically, Britain needs a hub. That’s an airport where people landing just get on another plane. So to have additional planes land in Gatwick might seem a little pointless when those poor souls would probably have to brave the wayward trip to Heathrow.

Another potential 2 hours. That’s right, UK visitors; ‘London’ Gatwick to ‘London’ Heathrow is not a short jog. ‘London’ sits in front of Gatwick in the same way ‘Great’ does with Yarmouth.

In fact, I’d wager that many readers hadn’t realised that Gatwick currently only had one runway. Our gateway to the world hasn’t even got a separate entrance and exit, just a single two-way swinging door.

That’s a busy set of hinges for 34million people a year. So, if you’re now wondering where you’d land when a plane breaks down while taxiing on the runway at Gatwick… erm, that would be Heathrow.

I personally hope Gatwick gets it. Sussex could well do with the tens of thousands of jobs it would create, and the knock-on effect could be better transport links and economy for everyone. And on top of that, like many people, I’ve flown from France to Heathrow on quite a few occasions, and looked out the plane window to see Brighton in all its glory. It would be nice for once to not have to do a sad little wave while muttering, “see you in four hours.”