11 JUNE 2018


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Article from BTNews 11 JUNE 2018

COMMENT: Heathrow onward

In the world of diplomacy, as we have learned to our cost, you don’t just have talks. First you have to have talks about talks, and sometimes talks about talks about talks. For an example, see the current circus surrounding whether Trump will actually meet Kim Jong Un, and when, and where.

It’s therefore a relief to see progress at last on the UK’s National Aviation Strategy and the expansion of Heathrow. Last week’s announcement that the Cabinet, after more than a whiff of Brexit-style foot-dragging, had approved the plans, which incorporate the much-discussed third runway, was welcome.

There is of course a snag.

MPs still have to vote on the matter, probably by 11 July. Trade unions, business leaders, airlines and almost anyone you can think of have come forward to support Heathrow expansion, but some of those sent to the House of Commons to represent us are said to be unconvinced. It could be an “interesting” debate.

The industry, with caveats, seems to be solidly behind the third runway, because Grayling with some cunning packaged the whole thing to bring in Britain’s regional airports. Part of the strategy, he said, would be to ensure best use of existing capacity, which means that at the regional facilities.

Bosses at Stansted, Manchester and East Midlands, which are all run by the MAG Group, were unanimous in welcoming the Cabinet decision. In another powerful endorsement, the UK and global airline community published a joint statement expressing support. Signatories were Airlines UK chief executive Tim Alderslade, Board of Airline Representatives in the UK chief executive Dale Keller, and IATA regional vice-president Europe Rafael Schvartzman, between them representing a large majority of UK and international airlines operating in the UK.

They said: “Heathrow expansion is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform our domestic and international connectivity, which is why the airline community has been consistent in its support for a new runway.

“We hope that decades of delay and procrastination will soon come to an end and we can secure cross-party support in the House of Commons. It is time for politics to be taken out of this debate and a decision taken in the national interest.”

Also in favour was the Airport Operators Association (AOA), where chief executive Karen Dee said: “A global Britain requires connectivity to both established and emerging markets right across the country and thus needs both world-class hub and point-to-point capacity.

“The publication of the Airports NPS alongside the announcement that the government supports all airports in their efforts to make best use of their existing infrastructure are important steps to help the country deliver, sustainably, the connectivity it requires in the future.”

Then on Friday, out of the blue as it were, Emirates stepped into the debate. It landed its first flight between Dubai and Stansted, to become the latest scheduled long-haul airline to offer services from London’s third busiest airport and saying as it did so it was because “the city’s two bigger hubs are almost full”.  Others have tried and failed.

The airline, which already operates nine daily flights between London and Dubai from Heathrow and Gatwick, told Reuters it was also attracted to the Essex hub because of the travel demand it expects from the 25 multinational companies, including AstraZeneca and GSK, that have bases on the Stansted side of London.

Emirates said it was already seeing good demand on the Dubai – Stansted route. Divisional senior vice-president Hubert Frach said: “We expect the same high load factors as on the existing flights into the UK, it will be for sure crossing the 80% seat factor threshold.”

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Ray Hankin, United Kingdom

Emirates is far from being "...the first scheduled long-haul airline..." to operate from London Stansted. American and Continental tried it in the '90s and I seem to recall that El Al also routed transatlantic flights through there for a short time. Then there was Air Asia to Kula Lumpur, not to mention a brace of business class only airlines (Eos and MAXjet) also intent on establishing on transatlantic services. Stansted's problem is the dominance by low-cost carriers to Europe, which doesn't make for good connectivity by more conventional airlines.