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Gatwick Airport has two runways (08L/26R and 08R/26L), but they are only 200 metres apart - too close (by just ten metres) to allow simultaneous operations on both runways. As a result, usually only 08R/26L (the older, more southerly, and slightly longer of the two) is used as a runway, with 08L/26R serving only as a taxiway except when 08R/26L is closed for some reason.

Given that Gatwick has plenty of space available that could have been used to put 08L/26R ten metres further north and thus allow simultaneous operations on both runways, and that Gatwick is, and was, bursting at the seams with the amount of traffic it has to fit down 08R/26L, why was the new runway built just slightly too close to the original?

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    $\begingroup$ Gatwick was made in the 20's and developed in the 50's and 60's. Back then the aircraft weren't big enough, nor was there that much traffic. So really this is probably just about available space and historical decisions not being able to foresee the size/frequency of modern air travel. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Aug 10, 2019 at 4:03
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    $\begingroup$ This sounds like a similar question as to why would they have built Stonehenge so close to the A303. $\endgroup$
    – Neil
    Aug 12, 2019 at 13:14
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    $\begingroup$ @Neil : Nope, because the Stonehenge doesn't serve a practical purpose and is old enough to be a protected historical site. If it was newer, and it had some important practical purpose, the question when they'll relocate it, would make sense. $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    Aug 12, 2019 at 18:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Neil: Not unless Stonehenge was built in the 1970s. $\endgroup$
    – Vikki
    Aug 13, 2019 at 1:16
  • $\begingroup$ How do you know, @vsz, that Stonehenge doesn't/didn't serve a practical purpose? $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Mar 21 at 16:57

1 Answer 1

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Historically, Gatwick had only one runway (08R/26L) with a taxiway to the north, but this obviously would cause problems if that runway was out of use for any reason - emergency, scheduled maintenance, etc.

In 1979 the taxiway was upgraded so that it could be used as a runway when the main runway was out of use. Since this used existing infrastructure the locations were obviously fixed.

However, at that time the then owners of the airport (BAA) agreed with West Sussex County council that the second runway would only be used when the main runway was unavailable. This was to protect the interests of the airport's neighbours. With this agreement in place there was no incentive to address the issue of separation. The agreement was to run for forty years, and expires* on 13th August 2019.

With the imminent expiry of that agreement the airport is now exploring ways to bring that second runway into use. One suggestion is to widen the existing main runway southwards, allowing the centerline to be moved south and increase the separation.

Source: The Independent, 15 October 2018

  • Note: at the time of writing the agreement was due to expire just three days later. Now (March 2022) it has indeed expired.
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    $\begingroup$ Quite a coincidence, this question coming so close to the expiration date of the forty-year agreement! $\endgroup$ Aug 10, 2019 at 11:51
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    $\begingroup$ @PeterLeFanuLumsdaine: Quite a coincidence indeed, but a coincidence nonetheless - I only found out about that agreement while I was doing research for this question (and still didn't see why they couldn't have - say - added pavement to the north edge of the ex-taxiway in order to move its centreline sufficiently far away from that of 08R/26L, hence me still asking said question). $\endgroup$
    – Vikki
    Aug 10, 2019 at 21:46
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    $\begingroup$ Obligatory: "There are only coincidences" $\endgroup$
    – Jonah
    Aug 11, 2019 at 16:32
  • $\begingroup$ Edit rolled back to my original text. The change from 'expires' to 'expired' made nonsense of the following paragraph. I've replaced that edit with a footnote. $\endgroup$ Mar 18 at 19:52

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