U.S. Aviation Impact Activists Can Learn a Lot by Looking at London’s Gatwick Hub

One of the oldest activist groups fighting to manage aviation impacts and preserve their local community is the Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign (GACC.org.uk).  This group has been around since 1968. The website for GACC.org.uk is impressive, and well worth a look … especially for anyone near a U.S. airport searching for ways to reduce hub-related NextGen impacts.

A significant detail about Gatwick is that this airport operates using a single runway; thus, it’s closest stateside equivalent would be the San Diego International Airport [KSAN].

Gatwick is the second-busiest airport in the UK, behind Heathrow. And, as discussed in an earlier aiREFORM Post about Heathrow, the traffic intensity is amplified by airline hubbing, nearly all related to international and transatlantic flights. Management of environmental impacts is made worse by the fact that both Gatwick and Heathrow have been ‘privatized’, in schemes where private equity firms and other financial interests acquire the airports. This is problematic because it appears to further insulate all the stakeholders (airlines, airport authorities, and national regulators) from accountability, as they can now hide behind the idea that ‘investors abroad must be protected’. And so it is that in the UK, too, schemes such as the narrow repetitive NextGen-related routes are destroying neighborhoods while enhancing airline profits. [NOTE: the European equivalent of FAA’s ‘NextGen’ program is SESAR, which stands for Single European Sky ATM Research; click here to view a copy of the 152-page SESAR plan dated 3/30/2009, or click here to read a comparison of NextGen & SESAR in a 10/18/2011 presentation]

A frequent argument against expansion of both Gatwick [EGKK] and Heathrow [EGLL] is that the addition of any new runway(s) will only exacerbate a pre-existing economic disparity across regions of the UK. The conflict is between the ‘north’ and the ‘southeast’. Specifically, because the two largest UK airports are in the southeast, the potential job and economic benefits that airports allegedly create are not shared with regions to the north. Effectively, aviation is a parasitic form of economic development, advantaging one region while disadvantaging another region.

This is a problem in the U.S., too. That is to say, for every superHub airport being expanded even further beyond manageable traffic levels ([KATL], [KCLT], [KORD] are three examples), there are numerous other airports in decline, with billions in development costs going unused. All it takes is for the dominant airline to abandon a hub and, within a few years, the entire airport begins to look like an unmarketable brownfield. In the U.S., the most notable examples include: United at Cleveland [KCLE], American at St. Louis [KSTL], USAir at Pittsburgh [KPIT], and Delta at Cincinnati [KCVG] or Detroit [KDTW].

It is notable that aviation regulators such as FAA and NATS have a huge opportunity to resolve these problems. All it takes is the establishment of sound national policies that disincentivize hub overdevelopment. A more evenly distributed aviation system, imposed in the U.S. or UK (or both!), would yield these three substantial benefits:

  1. it would broaden dispersal of economic benefits;
  2. it would reduce and even eliminate noise and pollutant impacts by repetitive flights; and…
  3. it would greatly improve the so-called ‘customer experience’ that airline CEOs and A4A are increasingly talking about; i.e., it would reduce or eliminate connection hassles while also reducing total flight times for passengers!

For an indexed compilation of some key Gatwick-related documents, as copied from the GACC website, please see page two of this Post: