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British Irish Airports Expo 2018: Regional airports in the UK back Heathrow expansion

As the debate over a potential third runway at Heathrow Airport gathers momentum ahead of the government’s vote in the coming weeks, leaders from 40 UK airports have written a letter collectively outlining their support for a third runway at Heathrow.

Underlining the benefits of a hub airport and Heathrow’s domestic passenger discount as key reasons for their support, the letter states that as “operators of airports, we understand aviation economics and that Heathrow’s expansion is the right choice for our strategic growth.”

Nation-wide benefits

Describing hub airports as the most efficient vehicle for capacity growth, and growth more broadly in the aviation sector, the letter disputes allegations made by some politicians and broadcast outlets saying: “It is reckless and dangerous to scaremonger MPs around the UK, as it almost certainly means that communities outside of London, will lose out and get left behind in the global race. It is not for London politicians to speak on our behalf.

The leaders also underlined that every corner of the country stands to benefit from the growth and trade that will stem from links to an expanded UK hub airport. “Expansion at Heathrow will provide much-needed, long-haul connectivity to our passengers and will double the cargo capacity for the benefit of UK exporters.”

Lauding Heathrow’s “commitment to domestic connectivity,”  the letter cited several: Heathrow’s reduction in domestic passenger charges by £15 per passenger (which it introduced in January 2018); its investment in a £10 million fund to kick-start domestic routes; and its proposal to ring-fence new slots for domestic use, as evidence of its dedication to boost regional connectivity.

Economic powerhouse

Speaking at this year’s British Irish Airports Expo held at Olympia in London on 12 and 13 June, Emma Gilthrope, Executive Director of Heathrow Expansion, Heathrow Airport described the airport as an “economic might.” She added that as a national hub it is the airport’s responsibility to “bring that global connected economy into regional economies throughout the UK.”

With Brexit looming, she also emphasised that “transport infrastructure will be vital for foreign direct investment,” while surface access is a critical issue for the airport’s expansion delivery team. “We need to create a truly integrated transport hub for the UK,” she added.

“As we see a future where we trade, connect and see more, it’s vital we have a hub infrastructure that makes all of that happen and connects a global, confident Britain to growth opportunity. This complements our equally vital and vibrant regional point-to-point airports.”

Meanwhile, during her keynote speech at the expo on Tuesday 12 June, Aviation Minister, Baroness Sugg CBE, said: “We need all our airports to thrive. And every region of the UK to benefit from improved air links. And the economic benefits they bring.” She also reiterated that “one of the key benefits from expanding Heathrow will be the increase in connectivity to the nations and region s of the UK the importance of regional connectivity.”

One of the signatories on the letter of support, Al Titterington, managing director, Cornwall Airport Newquay, told Regional Gateway during the British Irish Airports Expo that although he remains loyal to Gatwick, he is fully behind Heathrow’s expansion plans. “We stand to reap the benefits of this expansion. It opens up a whole new market for us both in terms of inbound and outbound tourism,” he said. “A link with Heathrow would enable Cornwall to have onward connections to every continent of the globe as well as easy access to London.”

Humza Yousaf, Minister for Transport and the Islands, The Scottish Government also added his support saying: “Heathrow’s plan addresses how all Scottish airports benefit from the new runway capacity by providing a significant boost to the country’s connectivity (while offering significant job creation and major investment opportunities).”

Increased competition and lower fares

In contrast to British Airways boss, Willie Walsh, telling UK ministers back in February that they would be “foolish” to sign a blank cheque for Heathrow’s expansion, low-fare giant, easyJet, has now waded in to the debate pointing out what it sees as clear reasons the capacity-constrained hub needs expansion. Essentially, it will enable low-cost carriers to utilise the airport fully, allowing them to provide new routes, as well as lower fares and increased competition against the more expensive legacy carriers that use Heathrow on dozens more UK and European routes.

Both easyJet and Flybe (which already operates out of Heathrow), have published indicative route maps, showing which UK routes they would look to operate from an expanded Heathrow.

But, it was Emma Gilthorpe’s closing statement that left a lasting impression.

This is an enormous project that will last well into the next century. Heathrow has been a legacy for those who came before us to better the lives of those who come after us. How our children and future generations reach the world and connect with it will be dependent on the government’s decision over the third runway

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