UK domestic flights will all but disappear over the next decade due falling demand, a senior airline boss has warned.
Emirates UK vice president, Laurie Berryman, said that existing routes would continue to be squeezed because of a lack of capacity at Heathrow, combined with the rise of long-haul flights operating directly from regional airports.
He suggested that flights between London and Manchester, a key domestic air link, could end altogether within ten years.
The drop in demand is likely to be hastened by the construction of the HS2 high speed rail line, which will connect Manchester to London in one hour and eight minutes, roughly the same time that it takes to fly, he said.
Berryman said it was likely that only a small number of UK routes, such as those connecting the capital with Glasgow and Edinburgh, would survive in the long term because of a decline in passenger numbers.
Sir Richard Branson’s Little Red, Virgin’s UK domestic arm, closed last year. Only 380,000 passengers flew between Heathrow, Britain’s only hub airport, and regional airports in March, a drop of 13.9% in a year. Over the past 12 months, domestic traffic has dropped by 6.2%.
Berryman said that passengers increasingly wanted to fly on long-haul services directly out of regional airports, instead of connecting through London via domestic flights.
The told The Times: “Will we have a Manchester-to-London air service in ten years’ time? If there’s no extra capacity in the south-east, I do wonder.
“I think there’s no demand there. People who live in Manchester who want to go to Mumbai go via Dubai, not via London. It is one of the reasons that Little Red went. I flew Little Red a few times between London and Manchester and never saw more than 20 people on it. The demand is not there.
“When you go back to the whole runway debate and the lack of slots, it is quite clear that domestic traffic will just be squeezed and squeezed.”
Heathrow has been officially full for more than a decade, forcing airlines to prioritise more profitable long-haul routes. Emirates has concentrated on building its UK network outside London because of the pressure on Heathrow and Gatwick. It recently launched a third daily service from Birmingham to Dubai. It also has three flights from Manchester, two from Glasgow and one from Newcastle.
A Heathrow spokesman said: “We want to do everything we can to safeguard and encourage better connectivity with the rest of the UK.”
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