Airport wants major expansion

BOSSES at Stansted Airport have officially unveiled plans to dramatically increase passenger numbers on its existing runway – with the prospect of transatlantic flights back on the schedule.

BOSSES at Stansted Airport have officially unveiled plans to dramatically increase passenger numbers on its existing runway – with the prospect of transatlantic flights back on the schedule.

They will now go on a charm offensive to win over residents opposed to the proposals as a public consultation period begins.

Passenger numbers at Stansted are legally limited to 25million a year, but with a current throughput of 22million airport and the ceiling likely to be hit in 2007, bosses want to increase the limit to 35million.

Airport bosses yesterday unveiled the plans to squeeze as much business from their existing runway and revealed they are "cautiously optimistic" of landing a deal with a US airline to restart scheduled flights to America next year.

And in a stinging attack on campaigners at Stop Stansted Expansion, top directors at airport operator BAA attacked protesters' tactics as "mischief-making, monotonous and negative".

But last night the campaign group hit back and pledged to fight the new plans as vigorously as it has the second runway proposals.

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A three-month public consultation exercise with residents and businesses is now under way and a planning application will be submitted to Uttlesford District Council next spring.

But there is a fear that council planners could merge these plans - which include proposals for new hotels, car parks, aircraft stands, access roads and extensions to the terminal building – with the even more controversial proposals for a second runway, which goes out for its own public consultation this November.

At a media briefing at Stansted yesterday, Terry Morgan, the airport's managing director said he "hoped" councillors would keep them separate, but expected some turbulence.

"We can't afford and wait for the two applications to be merged because we will be way through 25million by 2007.

"The spirit between the airport and Uttlesford District Council is good and I'm confident that this application will be looked at on its own merits.

"I'm sure there will be some political manoeuvrings going on, but we're used to that anyway."

With much of the required planning permission for changes already in place, bosses insisted the new proposals would have a "modest" environmental impact, create 5,000 new jobs by 2015 and significantly boost company profits.

They also played down fears that millions more passengers could trigger lengthier delays at departure and arrival by claiming the passenger experience would be "better" in an expanded terminal.

A large proportion of the new numbers would travel in the slacker off-peak periods, which would be filled by more long haul flights, Mr Morgan added.

Peter Sanders, chairman of Stop Stansted Expansion, last night angrily rejected the airport's criticism of his group and issued his own warning about the company's tactics.

He said: "It would be helpful if they actually talk about the issues affecting people rather than just come out with a series of adjectives – we would welcome a constructive discussion.

"They say it will increase to 35million passengers, but in the past the airport has proceeded step by step.

"It won't be the end of the story – if they get the 35million, they'll then want more. It's not sustainable.

"Having got the most from this single runway they'll want more – it's the creeping incrementalism that worries us.

"If they get the second runway they say there'll be 82million. We will continue to vigorously oppose the airport on all fronts," he added.

Mark Gayler, the new leader of Uttlesford District Council, said his authority remained vehemently opposed to the principle of a second runway, but would look carefully at the separate proposal to increase the passenger limit.

"One of my main concerns is that in the past, Stansted has tended to ask leading questions on its public consultation documents and questionnaires and I hope they will be straighter this time."

Details of the airport's public consultation, which will be exhibited around the region in the coming months, can be viewed at www.stanstedairport.com/future

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