Heathrow challenges Gatwick’s claims on long-haul routes

aviation_newsHeathrow is today submitting evidence to the Airports Commission challenging Gatwick’s claims that it is able to support long-haul flights to growth markets.

This follows the recent news that Air China is suspending flights from Gatwick to Beijing, the withdrawal of Korean Air and the cancellation of the proposed Garuda Indonesia flight from Gatwick to Jakarta this winter. In total, 20 long-haul airlines have withdrawn from Gatwick in the last five years.

Direct long-haul flights are critical to supporting trade and growth. UK businesses trade 20 times more with emerging markets that have daily flights than those with less frequent or no direct service.

Gatwick maintains that long-haul flights do not need to operate from a hub airport. Yet, in the ten years that Heathrow has been full, Gatwick has failed to deliver flights to long-haul business destinations. Airlines that have been unable to access slots at Heathrow have tried and failed to make long-haul flights from Gatwick work.

Heathrow Chief Executive Colin Matthews said:

“There is no need for a crystal ball to test Gatwick’s claims that it can provide long-haul flights when we have the hard evidence of ten years of failure. While Heathrow has been full, airline after airline has tried without success to make long-haul flights from Gatwick work. Gatwick doesn’t have a flight to New York, one of the world’s most important business and financial centres, so it’s not surprising it can’t support routes to the less popular and more distant destinations that will be critical to future trade.

“Gatwick’s proposal to prevent Heathrow expanding, while adding a new runway at its own airport, endangers Britain’s future competitiveness. It is a zero-hub solution that will lead to an irreversible decline in Britain’s international connections. Only a hub airport with the scale to compete internationally can provide the long-haul flights the UK needs.”

Heathrow is not opposed to growth at Gatwick as long as it is alongside building an expanded hub airport. A new runway at Gatwick alone would deliver neither the flights that Britain needs nor the £100bn of economic benefits and more than 70,000 jobs that a third runway at Heathrow will.

Many of the airlines which have pulled out of Gatwick instead operate flights to economic competitors in France, Germany and Holland. The issue is not a lack of demand from London, but that without levelling out the daily peaks and troughs in local demand with transfer passengers, Gatwick cannot fill long-haul aircraft and compete with Paris, Frankfurt, and Amsterdam. Some of Gatwick’s flights to Vietnam, one of the last long-haul services to an emerging market from the airport, are now flying via Frankfurt to pick up more passengers to make the flight viable.

Hub airports, where local passengers combine with transfer passengers, are uniquely important in allowing airlines to fly to growth destinations. Heathrow serves more than 70 global destinations that are not served by another UK airport and is one of only six airports world-wide that serves more than 50 long-haul destinations. This gives UK consumers a greater choice of destinations and makes Britain a more attractive location for international business. This source of competitive advantage for the UK cannot be sustained by Gatwick’s proposals.

There are no European countries that have two hubs and no successful examples of what Gatwick is proposing. Analysis by York Aviation shows that adding capacity at other London airports but not at a hub would mean fewer routes than today, while adding new runway capacity at a single hub would mean London and the UK could add more than 100 new routes1.

Airlines say they won’t move to Gatwick or Stansted2. Despite Gatwick and Stansted having spare capacity and lower charges neither has been able to attract the long-haul flights that Heathrow does. Over the period in which Gatwick lost 20 long-haul airlines it gained just six that are still operating, mostly to leisure destinations – Thomson, Monarch, Caribbean, Gambia Bird, Vietnam, and Iraqi.

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