asked the Minister of Aviation what steps he is taking to enlarge and improve the runway facilities at Gatwick Airport.
Gatwick Airport was designed for use by short and medium haul services and not for the heavier long haul aircraft taking off at their maximum all-up weight. It would be uneconomic to duplicate the facilities which have been provided at Heathrow for regular long haul services.To meet the requirements of short and medium haul aircraft at Gatwick, I have recently increased the distance available for take-off at the western end of the existing runway. I have also asked consulting engineers to survey and make an estimate of the cost and time required for the construction of a second runway.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that when heavy jet aircraft are diverted to Gatwick Airport they have to take off with an insufficient load of fuel to complete their journey, which necessitates another landing fee, well over £100? Is it right that a country which is as important in the world as Britain as an air centre should have only one major airport in the south of England which will take the heaviest aircraft?
There is a certain confusion here. A fully-loaded medium-range jet can, of course, take off from Gatwick. That is what it is designed for. It is also possible to divert for landing purposes a trans-Atlantic jet, but a trans-Atlantic jet cannot take off fully-loaded. For that purpose it has to go back to Heathrow. As the Estimates Committee suggested the other day, there is a case for reducing the landing fee for a transfer of that kind, That would be much cheaper than trying to duplicate Heathrow.
Has the Minister's attention been drawn to Recommendation No. 25 of the Estimates Committee and to the paragraph in the Report which urges the Minister to make provision to enable jet aircraft to take off fully loaded from Gatwick, If this is not done, the principle of having a secondary or alternative airport to Heathrow is completely nullified.
I will consider very carefully what is, I am sure, an admirable Report. I do not wish to give an answer now, but I should like to make it clear beyond peradventure that Gatwick is not an alternative to Heathrow. That is the starting point for fully-loaded trans-Atlantic traffic. There are many other things that we would do before we did what has been suggested.
Traffic is heavy, not only across the Atlantic, but to Australia, Africa and the rest of the world. Is it not high time that a large number of services went from Gatwick instead of from Heathrow, which is already overcrowded?
Heathrow is overcrowded, not with long distance jets but with medium and short haul jets. There might be a case for transferring some of those to Gatwick. I do not wish to debate the matter in detail now. If my hon. Friend likes to have a word with me, I am sure that I can persuade him of the justice of my case.