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London has six international airports: Heathrow, City, Luton, Southend, Stansted, and Gatwick. It might even have eight international airports if you count Birmingham Airport and Southampton Airport.

Why does London need so many? I think two airports is enough. Plus, they are put in bad locations. So, is this for a practical, or some kind of other reason?

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    $\begingroup$ Comprehensively covered by Jay Foreman some years ago. $\endgroup$ – CatchAsCatchCan Apr 22 at 23:51
  • $\begingroup$ Common sense can answer your question. $\endgroup$ – Super Apr 22 at 23:58
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    $\begingroup$ Not all of these airports are actually in London, they are just called "London ... Airport" for marketing reasons... $\endgroup$ – Bianfable Apr 23 at 7:17
  • $\begingroup$ related: aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/71302/… $\endgroup$ – Jamiec Apr 23 at 8:25
  • $\begingroup$ @CatchAsCatchCan never seen that video. Scene1, my local airfield. That caught me by surprise! $\endgroup$ – Jamiec Apr 23 at 8:27
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Why does London need so many? I think two airports is enough. Plus, they are put in bad locations.

As others have mentioned, London is a huge connection point for several parts of the world as well as being one of the big financial cities in the world.

During WW2 a huge number of air bases in the UK were built or expanded by the allies, and post-war several of them were used as civil airports. Several of the ones you mention has roots in this:

  • Southend was built during WW1, closed after and reopened in the 1930s
  • Gatwick was built as a civilian airport between the world wars
  • Stanstead was built during WW2
  • Luton opened just prior to WW2
  • Heathrow opened between the world wars as a civilian airport

Several of them saw expansions by the military during WW2, getting improved infrastructure and bigger capacity. Once the war was over, the airfields were available to civilian and commercial use.

So, is this for a practical, or some kind of other reason?

It is not as if the city of London planned where to put each airport. They were there when the need for additional capacity appeared; in some cases the airports initially served local municipalities and cargo airlines, later to be used by charter and other airlines when the airports closer to London were full. The same thing is done today with budget airlines choosing to operate out of airports further from the population centers where the operational costs are lower for the airline.

The only apparent exception to all this is London City Airport, the only of the airports mentioned built after WW2. It was built in the 1980s as part of a bigger plan to revitalize a part of London; by having a small business airport close to the city it could attract new investors and companies.

I think two airports is enough.

By numbers alone, London could get by with two Atlanta-sized airports. But to do this you need room to build and the political will to spend money on expanding an airport rather than allowing airlines to use other airports further away.

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  • $\begingroup$ None of the London airports are a particularly good bet for major expansion (Heathrow is surrounded by housing on three sides and its approach/departure path overflies much of London, for example). When there have been proposals for a single, large airport it's always been a new-build airport on a new site. $\endgroup$ – gsnedders Apr 23 at 11:39
  • $\begingroup$ @gsnedders and any new airport on a new site will be even farther from city center making it more of a "bad location" (per the OP), or would require demolition of numerous buildings to put it at a "more convenient location" requiring even more money and engendering even greater anger from those displaced and those under the new approach/departure paths. $\endgroup$ – FreeMan Apr 23 at 18:01
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Well, it´s all about demand and supply. At the moment all those airports run close to their full capacity, so it´s barely enough with six of them.

London is big connection point, international hub, connecting Europe, Asia and USA together. In addition being business capital on it´s own.

The location is to spread them around. As well, to build an airport and all infrastructure connecting it, takes a lot of space. You need additional space before/after runway, called obstacle free zone. And of course, there are regulations about noise and pollution in place. In other words, it´s complicated to find a place to build and airport, get all the permissions and have it close to a big city.

Heathrow Airport is already 7th busiest airport in the world. Gatwick is number 41. It´s hard to increase capacity of such busy airports. But they do plan to build another runway for Heathrow Airport. The problem, as I already mentioned, is where to build this 4km long (+ obstruction area, approach lights, etc) runway? Noise? Pollution? What about terminal capacity? New terminal needs a lot of space as well. Airspace around the airport might be limiting factor. If nothing else, cost is the major factor. One can get more flights on a new airport, vs expansion - cheaper flight for the passengers.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome! But this doesn't address the obvious, esp. in light of the last paragraph: why not fewer but bigger airports, like in most comparable cities? $\endgroup$ – Zeus Apr 23 at 0:38
  • $\begingroup$ Heathrow Airport is already 7th busiest airport in the world. Gatwick in n41. It´s hard to increase capacity of such busy airports. But they do plan to build another runway for Heathrow Airport. The problem, as I already mentioned, is where to build this 4km long (+ obst. area, approach lights, etc) runway? Noice? Pollution? What about terminal capacity? New terminal needs a lot of space as well. Airspace around the airport might be limiting factor. If nothing else, cost is the major factor. One can get more flights on a new airport, vs expansion - cheaper flight for the passengers. $\endgroup$ – aomt Apr 23 at 1:25
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    $\begingroup$ Well, I kind of know, but I commented so that you could improve your answer by incorporating these considerations into it. Just click "edit". $\endgroup$ – Zeus Apr 23 at 1:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Zeus: Because - as should be effing obvious - Britain is a small island, with land that has been owned, occupied, and built upon for thousands of years. It's not like say Denver where you can just grab a bunch of farmer's fields to build a gargantuan new airport: the land is already being put to what I think most Britons would consider better use, so - as with Heathrow expansion plans - any new or expanded airport is going to face stiff public opposition. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Apr 23 at 4:32

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