The British Airways A320 landed safely at Heathrow after being struck

Gatwick may have a new spring in its step over the postponement of the airport decision for environmental studies. But the battle with Heathrow over who has a new runway is also about cost.

Stewart Wingate, chief executive of Gatwick, points to the lower costs involved in building a second runway at the West Sussex airport, which the Davies Commission estimated at £9.3bn — compared with £18.6bn at Heathrow.

“From a cost point of view, ours is totally privately financed — there is no need for any public subsidy,” said Mr Wingate. “Heathrow still have this £5.7bn black hole around surface access costs.”

Heathrow has come under fierce criticism over the hefty infrastructure costs from IAG, its biggest airline customer and owner of British Airways, which supports a new runway but not at the current cost.

On Thursday, Willie Walsh, chief executive, said the group would look to expand at other hubs, such as Madrid or Dublin, rather than pay the high costs involved with a third runway at the UK’s largest airport.

Mr Walsh questioned why the overall price was so high when only £182m would go towards the actual runway — the equivalent of about 1 per cent of the cost. By contrast, £800m will be spent on a new car park and relocating other car parks.

“What airlines want is a new runway, so how come a new terminal, handling the same number of passengers as Terminal 5, would cost £3bn more in today’s money?” said Mr Walsh.

Another area likely to come in for debate is the cost of installing transport links. Mike Brown, who heads Transport for London, which operates the capital’s transport network, believes both airports have underestimated how much will need to be spent on this.

To get the right transport infrastructure for a third runway at Heathrow, TfL has previously estimated that costs could be as much as £20bn.

“Our premise from a technical perspective is very simple: there is insufficient public transport provision taken into account in the Davies commission to do anything other than allow a third runway to operate on its first day,” said Mr Brown.

Gatwick’s surface access costs, which the Davies commission put at £787m, were also likely to be much higher, he said. “At Gatwick, proportionally more people use public transport to get to the airport than to Heathrow. It is smaller numbers but proportionally it is a much greater number. You would probably need a new Brighton mainline.”

Heathrow said the airport would work with BA and other carriers to ensure an expansion that was efficient and cost-effective. “It will allow the 30 airlines who want to come to Heathrow up to 40 new long-haul destinations, with short-haul airlines such as easyJet planning to offer 68 routes, including seven in the UK,” it added.

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