26 MAY 2014


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Article from BTNews 26 MAY 2014

COMMENT - Waste of space

Akbar Al Baker, Chief Executive of Qatar Airways (QR), has received criticism this past week. 

At a function in Dubai a reporter asked why Gulf carriers are so much more advanced than European ones.  His response was thus.  “Europe’s growth is impeded because airports are locked up between 11pm and 5.30am each day – and that is the time ideal for east-west transfers to take place,” he said.

This was interpreted by some media that he favoured more night flights into Heathrow.  As the representative of Qatar National interests, part owner of the airport and on its Board, he is clearly aware as anyone regarding the sensitivity of flight scheduling.  With his IATA and oneworld Board hats on even more so!

Some more censure followed regarding the introduction of a 40 ‘guest’ Business Class service between Heathrow and Doha with an Airbus A319.  “A waste of space” so it was said. 

With six daily slots some in the media suggested that it was just an opportunity for Qatar Airways to grab additional landing rights, which will eventually become a 500-passenger A380 service.  For that only time will tell but the sumptuous layout of the aircraft indicates that QR are in for the long term.

This new service has encouraged Business Travel News to explore the whole slot situation at Heathrow.  The airport says it is 98% full but for the most part works to acceptable standards.  Cramped it may be in terms of apron space and aircraft manoeuvrability but the airlines and passengers most certainly want to use the west London concrete jungle.  Slots are very much in demand and what is available will have to last until at least 2025 unless the Airports Commission suggests an increase in the official limit.

With 140m annual airport passengers (six airports) London is by far the world’s largest airport hub.  The combined New York (Kennedy, La Guardia and Newark) comes to 110m and Paris (Charles de Gaulle plus Orly) 90m. 

There is no doubt that Heathrow Airport Ltd will always welcome a change of gauge upwards (larger aircraft) and will encourage airlines to take this route.  More passengers for the same slot.

According to OAG, the average aircraft capacity in June will be 194 seats.  Heathrow Airport tells us (via the CAA stats) that currently 164 passengers are being carried per aircraft in and out which gives an average 82% load factor, a fine figure for the airlines, and one that ought to satisfy those concerned with the efficiency of the operation.  Any higher load factor becomes increasingly unmanageable from a commercial point of view for full service carriers.

The smallest aircraft to use Heathrow on scheduled services (forgetting the Qatar A319) is the Fokker 70 flown by KLM with up to 80 seats.  It is interesting to note, at the other end of the scale, if every 747 currently operating at Heathrow were to be replaced by an A380 (say 500 seats, although most are more) this would give around an extra 7m passengers a year (again based on OAG stats).

You can still bring a private jet into the airport but are subject to getting an ad hoc slot.  This for the most part is not acceptable to the sort of people who fly in executive aircraft.  To put the whole thing into perspective there were just 1,065 non-scheduled arrivals into Heathrow last year (out of a total of 469,552 movements).  The largest private jet was an A340 (50 arrivals) and the smallest the Beechcraft King Air turboprop (26).  There were even a number of helicopter movements.  Qatar Airways 365 Airbus A319 departures will not make much difference.

Yes, Heathrow appears to be full with 72.2m passengers for 2013.  Based on 2% annual growth by 2025 this will total 90m.  Somehow it will be accommodated. 

Terminal 2, The Queen’s Terminal, becomes operational on 4 June.

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