London Gatwick controversial plan to bring its emergency runway into full-time use

London’s Gatwick Airport has unveiled a growth strategy which includes a controversial plan to use an existing taxiway as a permanent second runway.

Gatwick was recently overlooked for expansion by a U.K. government decision to back a third runway at rival airport, Heathrow. Campaigners have now accused Gatwick’s New York-based owners of expansion “by the backdoor.”

At present, the second runway at Gatwick is currently only allowed to be used for emergencies or when the main runway is closed for maintenance. However, that 40-year restriction is set to expire at the end of 2019.

Gatwick said Thursday that it believed it could bring the standby runway into routine use for departing flights by the mid 2020’s, potentially years before additional capacity is online at Heathrow.

The Chief Executive Officer at London Gatwick, Stewart Wingate, said in a statement Thursday that with the U.K. set to leave the European Union, global connections are “needed more than ever,” before adding that bringing the standby runway into routine use would unlock “much-needed new capacity.”

At present, the main runway and standby runway are just 198 metres apart, 12 metres too close to satisfy official guidelines set down by The International Civil Aviation Organization. However, Gatwick believe they can lay additional asphalt, repaint markings, and move landing lights to satisfy the legal requirements.