Opinion: More than one answer to capacity conundrum

Opinion: More than one answer to capacity conundrum

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Growing demand for long-haul flights from the UK regions could help relieve pressure on the southeast’s crowded runways, says Paul Kehoe, Birmingham Airport chief executive

Tourism is up, including a very welcome 4.71% increase in visits to destinations beyond London in the first nine months of 2015.

This trend has seen record numbers of passengers flying direct to our second city and, given the value of tourism to the UK economy, provides policymakers with a strong hint about how to tackle the thorny issue of southeast runway constraint.

Birmingham airport sits in the centre of the UK and is the most accessible airport by road and rail, with 35 million people living within a two-hour catchment.

Just 10 minutes to the centre of Birmingham and a little over an hour from London by train, it offers 50 airlines flying to 160 direct global destinations, including daily flights to New York, Delhi, Istanbul, Dubai, Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels and Frankfurt.

This provides around 300 possible connections worldwide, throughout the Middle East, the US, Far East and Australasia.

Last year, Birmingham served 10.2 million passengers, up 5.2% on the previous year and up 20% in long-haul traffic.

New services to Reykjavik, New York, Madrid, Warsaw, Budapest and Poznan were launched, plus additional frequencies to key hubs such as Dubai, Istanbul and Delhi, and for a second year running the airport played host to direct flights to Beijing which, in 2015, went twice weekly.

This year is set to be even busier as we prepare for the launch of Qatar, Blue Air, Iberia and Czech Airlines, as well as welcoming the Emirates A380 aircraft each day from the end of March.

Our vision for UK aviation – a network of long-haul airports connecting every region’s economy into international opportunities – is being realised as our route network grows.

This is relieving pressure on the congested southeast and delivering benefits to the UK economy, estimated at £1.7 billion in 2014.

Looking at tourism alone, independent analysts estimate the value that Birmingham airport delivers amounts to over £430 million a year.

HS2 will increase our national role further, allowing us to serve a greater share of the London market by cutting travel times between the airport and the capital to 38 minutes.  

This growth is fuelling a virtuous circle, connecting more UK restaurants, hotels, theatres and a whole host of other sectors to customers around the world.

In fact, the latest UK trade statistics show the West Midlands delivered 10% of all UK exports in the third quarter of 2015, sitting only behind London and the southeast.

The US is our top export partner, and we have seen the region’s increasing exports translate into increased passengers to New York and other global hubs, as well as visitors to the region from the US, China and India.

We want to do more. We already benefit from a 70-minute train service from London and, with our extended runway, we are seeking to realise our ambitions for scheduled direct services to South America, the US West Coast and China.

According to independent analysis, securing the routes we calculate there is strong market demand for in our catchment area could add a further £425 million to the UK economy.

For policymakers looking for a solution to London’s runway capacity constraints and also wanting to boost the economy of the whole country, the answer is obvious: do more to support new routes at Birmingham and the UK’s other long-haul airports.


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