The boss of Gatwick today vowed to build a second runway instead of or in addition to a third runway at Heathrow.
The comments from chief executive Stewart Wingate came as Gatwick reported that August was the busiest month in its history with 2.1% year-on-year growth to 4.9 million passengers – boosted by a surge in long-haul travel to destinations such a Florida and the Caribbean.
Total numbers over the school holiday period also rose by more than 2% to reach 8.1 million passengers, including long-haul growth of 11.1%.
Wingate said: “Gatwick has just had its biggest-ever month during its busiest-ever summer holiday period. This clearly demonstrates the passenger demand for the growing global connectivity offered by Gatwick.
“Later this year, we’ll be further adding to our more than 60 long-haul connections with routes to Denver, Seattle, Austin, Chicago, Taipei and Singapore starting.
“As Gatwick continues to grow beyond 45 million annual passengers, we remain ready and willing to build our financeable and deliverable second runway scheme instead of, or in addition to, Heathrow should the government give us the green light.”
His comments came as Labour peer Lord Blunkett claimed that the party will support building a third runway at Heathrow because it fears the anger of powerful trade unions if it does not.
Unions would “not countenance” the parliamentary party being told to vote down the plans due to the sheer number of jobs involved.
Heathrow said that the mega-project would create 180,000 jobs in construction, airport services, the wider supply chain and the knock-on boost to the economy. This includes 10,000 apprenticeships by 2030.
Airport bosses have established a 14-strong task force to make sure that the jobs are shared across Britain. It is claimed that 100,000 could be created outside London and the south-east.
The group launched a six-week consultation at the TUC congress in Brighton, aimed at shaping the airport’s employment policy.
Lord Blunkett, the former education and employment secretary who is the task force’s chairman, said that the job opportunities made it almost inconceivable that a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn would oppose a third runway.
It was reported last month that Labour was almost certain to vote against Heathrow when the plans were put to a vote of MPs in the first half of next year, citing environmental concerns.
However, Lord Blunkett insisted that union support for the £16.8 billion scheme would swing Labour behind the project. Unite, Britain’s biggest union, which is led by Len McCluskey, a key Corbyn ally, has campaigned in favour of a third runway.
He told The Times: “I would be very surprised if the major trade unions were to countenance the Labour Party opposing the kind of job creation, skills development and apprenticeship programmes that go hand-in-hand with the development and expansion of Heathrow.
“If we don’t have the expansion of Heathrow, it’s not just the jobs and the apprenticeships and training that will be lost; it’s an opportunity to present Britain post-Brexit as a country that’s going somewhere.
“I would be surprised if the trade union movement countenanced the Labour Party in parliament being asked to vote down a project that is so crucial to job creation.”
The new runway would be built by 2025 under the airport’s present plans. It is expected to boost capacity by 50%, allowing Heathrow to handle 740,000 flights a year.
The task force has been founded to make sure that suppliers invest in skills and apprenticeships while promoting careers in local schools and providing opportunities to job returners or older workers.
Meanwhile, Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye sought to counter criticism from airlines that expansion will not be possible without raising fees.
He insisted that the project was deliverable without increasing passenger charges: “I cannot think of any big infrastructure project that achieved that target but we are working towards delivering expansion at close to current charges as we’ve been tasked with by the government.”
He told the Mail on Sunday: “We can expand the airport with fewer new buildings. We can do the construction on a phased basis so we can smooth out the price.
“Originally we were going to expand Terminal 2 early on which would have given us an extra 20 million passengers a year.
“Now we’re going to do that in phases, adding enough for five million at a time.
“We’ve seen a big appetite from the airlines to increase their business from here, much faster than we had planned. New airlines, too, who couldn’t get into Heathrow are very interested. It looks like growth in the early years might be faster that we had assumed.”