The UK could support two airport hubs rather than one, according to the commission investigating aviation capacity constraints.

The Airports Commission said it should be possible for one of the three global airline alliances at Heathrow to move to another airport – the most obvious location being Gatwick – without any large scale damage to their operations.

“A complete alliance might … find it possible to transfer the entirety of its network [from Heathrow to another airport] if it chose to do so and the necessary capacity was available,” said the commission, in its airports operating models consultation document.

“Modelling work conducted for the Airports Commission by the [Civil Aviation Authority] demonstrates that if any of the alliances currently present at Heathrow – Star Alliance, Oneworld or SkyTeam – opted to relocate to either Gatwick, Luton or Stansted, theoretically this would not result in substantial connectivity losses for passengers of that alliance.”

The commission, chaired by Sir Howard Davies, said that if it concluded more airport capacity was needed, the factors that would influence an airline alliance in moving away from Heathrow could become a “key issue” for it to consider.

Gatwick, which is arguing against Heathrow’s expansion, wants a second runway and has expressed an interest in the possibility of becoming a hub by securing one of the global airline alliances.

The commission’s statement highlights how it is far from certain that capacity-squeezed Heathrow will succeed in its efforts to secure permission to build a third runway and possibly a fourth, the Financial Times reported.

The paper considers the distinguishing features of a hub or ‘focal’ airport and what enables an airport to assume this role, alongside other possible models for structuring airport capacity.

It discusses current trends in the global aviation sector, how they might develop in the future, and considers the potential implications for aviation capacity and connectivity in the UK.

Sir Howard said: “There is an important public debate in progress about the strengths and weaknesses of different airport operating models.

“The Airports Commission will need to give these arguments full and detailed consideration as we develop our assessment of the UK’s future aviation requirements.

“We believe it is particularly important to think about the way the aviation industry will change in the coming decades.

“Today’s industry is unrecognisable from the one a quarter of a century ago. This paper explores some of the possible future scenarios, which carry different implications for airport shape and capacity.”

The Commission set a deadline of July 13 for evidence to be submitted on the issues raised in the report.