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Why Are Recent Developments at UK Airports Advantageous For The Construction Industry?

31st August 2023


As the aviation industry, in general, recovers well after the difficulties of the pandemic, airport upgrades and infrastructure improvement projects have followed. With many such projects underway or imminent in the United Kingdom, there are strong signs for the construction industry there.

Boost for the construction industry

Amidst the slowdowns and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, airport expansion and upgrade projects were hardly a priority. Many plans were put on hold, and thoughts turned instead to immediate safety concerns and the future survival of the industry.

In 2023 the aviation sector has emerged from these concerning times and we have seen many things return to “normal.” Flight activity has now reached 94% of pre-pandemic levels. And infrastructure development projects have accelerated after several slow years. This is particularly apparent in regional airport development. Writing about the immediate prospects, the construction analyst Glenigan explained recently:

"Over and beyond the construction work worth £14 billion which a fourth runway at Heathrow would bring, the expansion of regional airports to cater for growing air passenger numbers is creating a promising source of new airport construction opportunities."

With the anticipation of increased activity, the Civil Engineering Contractors Association recently set up a specific airport expansion group. Its chief executive, Alasdair Reisner, further explained the motivation, saying:

“Currently, the UK loses an estimated £1.2 billion a year because of its shortfall in airport capacity, and airport expansion in the coming years will be key to ensuring the UK remains an attractive place to do business and to visit.”

Expansion underway at several commercial airports

This boost for the construction industry is being led by terminal or other airport infrastructure development projects across the country. This includes many projects at regional airports, not just the larger London airports. Significant projects include the following:

A major terminal modernization program at Manchester Airport. This is due to start later in 2023 and is worth £440 million.

Planned expansion work at London City Airport, including taxiway extensions and terminal expansion. These plans, and the linked plans to increase airport operating hours, the first work on piling and new deck construction has already begun.

Full re-surfacing and lighting work at London Stansted (with more significant terminal and taxiway work following in the future).

Expansion at Bristol Airport to take passenger capacity up from 10 million to 12 million per year. These plans have seen long-running appeals and legal challenges but were given the go-ahead by the High Court in early 2023.

Runway extension work (and new car parking areas) at Southampton Airport. This work began in early 2023. A 164 m (538 ft) longer runway will allow for larger aircraft and an increase in total passenger capacity.

Looking further ahead

One of the biggest potential (and much-discussed) projects in the UK is the construction of a third runway at London Heathrow Airport. These plans were put on hold during the pandemic, and are still paused but may see movement again in the future.

Other major projects are coming up, too. One of the largest is the future re-opening of Manston Airport in Kent (it has been shut down since 2014). This former RAF base will be developed for use as a cargo base and for business / private flights. This is a £500 million construction project that will go on for many years.

On the commercial airline side, there are plans for big expansion at London Luton in the pipeline. If approved, this would see construction of a new terminal and taxiway, with airport capacity increased to 32 million per year.

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