SCOTLAND’S two largest airports are split over whether to back the expansion of Heathrow or Gatwick - the shortlisted options announced by the UK Government’s Airports Commission.
The divide over increasing airport capacity reflects their different ownership, with Edinburgh favouring a second runway at sister airport Gatwick.
Glasgow, which is owned by Heathrow Airport Holdings, is backing a third runway at the UK’s hub airport.
Airport expansion in southern England is seen as important in Scotland, despite direct routes to other hubs such as Amsterdam and Dubai, because Heathrow routes are Scotland’s busiest, for a combination of those travelling to London and connecting with other flights.
There is also concern that Scottish routes to London are being squeezed out because Heathrow is full.
The commission, which is due to publish its final report after the next general election in 2015, has shortlisted both a new Heathrow runway to the north west, and extending the airport’s northern runway so it could operate as two.
Chairman Sir Howard Davies said further work would be done on the so-called “Boris Island” proposal championed by London Mayor Boris Johnson for a new airport in the Thames estuary.
This will establish whether the Isle of Grain plan is credible because it has “too many uncertainties and challenges”.
The commission said one new runway would be required in south east England by 2030, and a second by 2050.
Other recommendations in the body’s interim report included enhanced bus links to Glasgow airport, to be followed by a possible light rail line.
The call will give added impetus to work by the airport and the Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency on improving access, four years after ministers scrapped the planned Glasgow airport rail link to save money.
Edinburgh and Glasgow’s now divergent views on airport expansion come 18 months after they were both owned by Heathrow Airport Holdings’ predecessor BAA.
However, following a Competition Commission ruling, Edinburgh was sold last year to Gatwick owner Global Infrastructure Partners, and is now unsurprisingly, opposed to Heathrow expansion, which it said will never happen.
Edinburgh Airport chief executive Gordon Dewar said: “There is a growing risk that if the Airports Commission promotes a new runway at Heathrow, then we are essentially handing politicians a licence to do nothing at all.
“I do not believe a new runway at Heathrow will ever be built, regardless of this commission, largely because of the very significant impact on London and its environment.
“Scots want choice and a solution in place as quickly as possible. The wrong recommendation could mean another lost decade, and Scots travellers are often the first to feel the consequences of a failure to take these tough decisions.”
However, a spokesman for Glasgow Airport said: “If Scotland is to remain competitive, then we must maintain and where possible, enhance our links with successful hubs such as Heathrow.
“International connectivity, and particularly long-haul connectivity in the UK, is dominated by Heathrow.
“Whilst Glasgow Airport will actively seek to secure direct links and links with other hub airports, our passenger statistics show that Heathrow remains the dominant airport for onward connectivity.”
Glasgow airport said completion of work on options to improve airport access was expected early next year.
A Transport Scotland spokesman added: “Following completion of the initial appraisal report in August, Glasgow Airport appointed consultants to complete a detailed appraisal to look at all the options identified and consider any impacts, costs, benefits and risks associated with each option.”
Glasgow City Council leader Gordon Matheson said: “The Scottish Government can’t ignore the recommendations of the Airports Commission regarding the light rail option.
“It seriously miscalled the decision to cancel the Glasgow airport rail link in 2009.
“The commission’s recommendation only reinforces what everyone already knows - public transport links to the airport need to be improved if Glasgow is to build on its position as a major European city.”