Special Report: Airlines back Heathrow

Special Report: Airlines back Heathrow

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The public and politicians may be split on the benefits of expanding Heathrow, but airlines are in no doubt. Ian Taylor reports

Airlines have come down overwhelmingly in favour of expanding Heathrow over Gatwick in submissions to the Airports Commission.

Dale Keller, chief executive of the UK Board of Airline Representatives (BAR-UK), told an aviation industry forum in London: “The majority of airlines think expansion at Heathrow will deliver the greatest economic benefit.”

BAR-UK represents 72 network carriers operating in Britain. But its submission to the Airports Commission consultation, which ended last week, was one of just 50,000. Following the election in May, the commission will recommend whether the next government expands Heathrow or Gatwick.

Keller warned The Future of UK Airport Capacity forum: “Airlines will operate where demand dictates. They will grab opportunities where they exist.”

Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye insisted: “The choice is to expand Heathrow or fly through Paris or Amsterdam. Only five other airports in the world offer more than 50 long-haul destinations. Heathrow offers 81 and we could offer another 40 [with a third runway].”

But Gatwick chief executive Stewart Wingate countered: “It’s critical the commission delivers an option that is deliverable. Heathrow is politically toxic.

“Delivery of Gatwick will be difficult but possible.”

Birmingham airport commercial director Jo-Ann Lloyd argued: “If Heathrow is allowed to grow, it will suck in all the routes that could be allocated to Birmingham. We want to be able to grow without the market being distorted by Heathrow.”

But Keller told Lloyd: “I am not hearing from airlines that growth at Heathrow will mean a reduction at other airports. Carriers make decisions based on whether they can make a profit. A Far East carrier that can’t fly to Heathrow is unlikely to go to Birmingham – it will go to Paris or Frankfurt.”

He rejected the suggestion that low‑cost carriers operating point-to-point services will dominate future flying.

Keller said: “The ‘low cost is king’ model is exaggerated. Aircraft manufacturers’ order books do not show [big] orders for wide-body aircraft by low-cost carriers.” Airbus reported orders for more than 1,250 wide-body aircraft at the end of January and Boeing had more.

Jock Lowe, Heathrow Hub director and former Concorde pilot, said: “There are 30 overseas airlines waiting for slots [at Heathrow]. They don’t want to go to Manchester or Birmingham. They want to go to Heathrow and, if they don’t, they will go to Paris, Amsterdam or Frankfurt.”

Lowe proposes expanding Heathrow by lengthening an existing runway – one of three options being considered by Sir Howard Davies alongside a third runway at Heathrow or a second at Gatwick. He said: “The trouble with Gatwick is it only has one motorway and one railway. If Gatwick expands, if Birmingham attracts more airlines, the services will be flights to major hubs. It won’t do a lot to connect us to other places. No one will fly to Recife [in Brazil] from Birmingham.”

Daniel Moylan, aviation adviser to the London Mayor, who has campaigned against Heathrow, told the forum: “Businesses want to fly to London and want to fly to a hub. Why is IAG buying Aer Lingus? Because it wants the slots at Heathrow. Why does the Treasury impose APD? Because it thinks: ‘Why should a surcharge for capacity constraints go to the airlines? We’ll have some of it.’”

Moylan criticised the commission. “The important issue is ‘hub or no hub?’,” he said. “By keeping Gatwick on the table, it eschewed giving an answer to this fundamental question. It has also avoided the question of what happens after 2030. I fear we may not make progress.”

The seminar was organised by the Westminster Energy, Environment and Transport Forum.


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