Colin Matthews, chief executive of Heathrow Airport says that maintaining a single UK airport hub is critical to our economic success.
The UK has been home to the world’s largest port, then international airport for the past 350 years. Since the 17th century, the world has travelled through the UK to reach its final destination and this country became the centre of global service industries like insurance, law and finance.
The UK has prospered as a result. Heathrow is the UK’s only ‘hub’ airport, and has supported our trading position for decades. As a hub airport, Heathrow pools demand from around the UK with that from other nearby countries. By combining local passengers with transfer passengers, Heathrow can support many more long haul destinations than any other airport in the UK. The UK’s many other airports - such as Manchester or Birmingham – serve important, but different, market needs. Point to point airports like this do not have transfer passengers to supplement the ups and downs of local demand and so they cannot support frequent, direct links to far-flung economies. The long haul connections that are vital for economic development, facilitating economic growth through trade, foreign investment and tourism can only be provided at a hub airport.
Yet our country’s competitive advantage will end sometime in the next few years as Heathrow is overtaken by Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Dubai as the busiest airport for international passengers. Each of these cities competes directly with the UK for inward investment and jobs. As it’s full Heathrow can’t keep up with them. Unless action is taken, Heathrow’s relative decline will make the UK a less attractive place to do business as the range of destinations businesses need will not be offered.
In setting up its Airports Commission, the Government has recognised that maintaining the UK’s aviation status is critical to economic success. We welcome the Commisson and will work constructively with Sir Howard Davies and his colleagues as they undertake their vital work. The Commission will need to look at all the options for increasing the UK’s hub airport capacity but in our view, some options need to be ruled out now. It has been argued that if having one hub is good, having two, say Stansted and Heathrow, would be better. In reality this will not work. Splitting the pool of transfer passengers available to fill flights undermines the viability of long haul routes. Tokyo’s attempt to operate hubs at both Haneda and Narita airports saw it slip from first to seventh in Asian city connectivity rankings. Montreal’s attempts to operate two hubs saw the new airport become an expensive white elephant. And New York, with 8 million inhabitants and two international airports, is less well connected to long-haul destinations than Frankfurt, whose population is 600,000.
Heathrow and London Mayor Boris Johnson are often cited as being on opposing sides of the aviation capacity debate. In fact, we agree on the importance of a single hub. In October, he said, “There is absolutely no point in simply scattering new runways randomly around. What this country urgently requires is a hub airport with several runways that will solve the pressing need to increase hub aviation capacity.”
The UK needs a single hub. The Government has three options: add capacity at Heathrow; close Heathrow and build a new hub airport elsewhere; or do nothing and see the economic prosperity of the UK suffer.