After nearly three years of deliberation the Davies Commission on airport expansion has given its opinion and backed a third runway at Heathrow. The Heathrow expansion is seen as the best short-term option to keep Britain competitive with its European rivals, such as Amsterdam Schiphol and Paris Charles de Gaulle. However, we are still a long way off from this actually coming to fruition. We take a look at which option will bring the best benefits to the Scottish business traveller.
Management at Gatwick think that if the Heathrow Expansion were given the go ahead it could mean fewer flights from Scotland as Heathrow would become a “monopolistic mega-hub”! The CEO of Gatwick believes that building a new runway at Gatwick will create a more competitive UK airports service thus helping Scotland’s direct air routes flourish.
In the last 2 years we have seen more direct routes added including Doha, Abu Dhabi, Chicago, Philadelphia etc. However it could be argued that Scottish airports would never have the same capacity to compete at the level of Heathrow.
At Heathrow they say the expansion would drive more value for the Scottish economy, create 16,000 jobs, and bring £14 billion* by connecting to more global markets not serviced by Scottish airports directly. Just last month over 270 of Britain’s business leaders signed an open letter to the prime minster asking that the government go ahead and implement the Airports Commission’s recommendation to expand Heathrow. The letter had a clear message – that UK business growth and productivity is being held back by lack of capacity at Heathrow.
Flights between Scotland and Heathrow have been reduced in recent years, but with Heathrow operating at 98% capacity, airlines such as British Airways had to make the choice between adding new flights to more lucrative long haul destinations or maintaining flights to Scotland.
Currently Heathrow has 80 airlines serving 185 destinations in 84 countries and Gatwick has 45 airlines serving 200 destinations in 90 countries. A significant argument against Gatwick being the best option for the Scottish business traveller, is that the majority of traffic is leisure as opposed to business, whereas Heathrow is the opposite.
Easyjet is by far the biggest operator from Gatwick with over 41% of the traffic with the most common routes are to Spanish airports such as Barcelona, Malaga, Madrid, Alicante and Tenerife and cities like Dublin, Amsterdam and Dubai. Heathrow offers a greater number of business driven destinations with New York (JFK), Dubai, Hong Kong, Dublin and Frankfurt for example.
Customers flying from the three main Scottish Airports to London have many choices but the best of these and the closest to Central London are Heathrow (15 minutes on Heathrow Express) Gatwick (30 minutes on Gatwick Express) and London City in the heart of Docklands.
If we look at connectivity, then Heathrow is the biggest without a doubt and if the third runway gets approved, then it will grow even bigger. If Heathrow was to rely on mid to long haul routes rather than connecting traffic to Scottish airports, then Scottish travellers may look at other gateways in Europe, such as Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris CDG, or the Middle East hubs for going East or Africa and the North American hubs for travel to the USA and Canada.
A major drawback with connecting via Gatwick is that you cannot interline (connecting from one airline to another) on all airlines. By this we mean airlines such as Easyjet, Monarch etc. do not allow through baggage check, onward boarding passes etc. so a lot of the travellers departing from Gatwick are starting their journey from the South Coast rather than using it as a hub.
From a business traveller’s perspective it would be fair to say that, if it supports additional domestic routes, an expansion at London Heathrow would offer the best connectivity to business hubs across the world but we will have to wait and see which option the Government sign off.