Many mums in business need to travel to exhibitions to promote their products or source supplies, and even if you don’t do this, you may take flights to go on holiday. Whether you take flights regularly or not, if you’re running a UK business then you could be affected by the London airport debate.
The issue of London’s airport capacity is one that refuses to go away. There have been various wars of words in recent years between a number of prominent figures, but what are the arguments about? What are the implications for British business of proposed action or inaction? And could restrictions at the capital’s air hubs see foreign investors transfer money abroad instead of the UK?
Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, Stansted, City, Southend… London is not the only city in the world to have multiple airports bearing its name, but few have quite so many. Heathrow is regarded as the jewel in the crown (not just London’s, but the UK’s) however the well known hub has been a victim of its own success in many ways.
The problem is capacity – what started as a humble aerodrome in 1929 has grown and grown into a British icon, but beyond the much trumpeted 2008 addition of Terminal 5 space is pretty much running out. This means that the airport will struggle to increase its offerings in terms of routes and frequencies.
The slip is starting to show. In 2014 Heathrow lost its coveted position as busiest airport in the world in terms of passenger numbers. Dubai, with over 52 million such passengers in the year, took the title and while Heathrow still saw some growth in this market the rate appeared to lag behind most of the other airports in the top 10.
That top 10 includes the Euro hubs of Paris Charles de Gaulle, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Istanbul. All should give cause for concern to London’s aviation chiefs. Amsterdam and Frankfurt are one airport towns, each accommodating a huge range of airlines and therefore giving international business travellers easier connectivity. While Charles de Gaulle has some competition in greater Paris, the passenger base is spread nowhere near as thinly as it is in south east England. Istanbul meanwhile has the potential to do just as well as Dubai, as its flagship Turkish Airlines expands its route network from west to east.
On top of the commercial threats from abroad, Britain’s own regional airports are growing impatient. Birmingham Airport has been particularly proactive in seeking to establish itself as an alternative to London for long haul carriers, while airports in Scotland and the north of England are decreasing their reliance on London links by forging new routes to overseas hubs.
With London’s air supremacy being undermined on many fronts the fear now is that there could be a knock on effect in other areas of business. Will corporations invest in Frankfurt instead? Will tourists choose the Eiffel Tower over Big Ben?
To keep London thriving as a global centre for trade, currency banking, industry, tourism and much more it would appear that something needs to be done to keep the capital’s air infrastructure at the top of its game. The big question is how – by further expanding the likes of Gatwick, or by starting from scratch with a brand new London airport for the future?