31 May 2018
As it currently stands we are expecting a vote in Westminster on the proposals for a third runway at Heathrow in June. To that end we recently held a session with John Holland-Kaye, CEO of Heathrow Airport, and a group of Chamber members to review where the case for the runway now stands.
Glasgow Chamber took the decision back in 2015 to support the development of the third runway having invited representatives from the leading options to present their cases to the members. We took the time to gather evidence and listen to the arguments.
By far and away our first preference is to see growth in the number of direct flights to trading and tourist destinations from Glasgow Airport. The Airport team does an excellent job in growing its portfolio of direct flights and the passenger numbers have grown rapidly as a result.
In the last month or so the daily direct flights to Frankfurt with Lufthansa began and an agreement was signed with Shanghai Airport Authority Alliance to work together as a first step in attracting a direct flight to one of the biggest and fastest growing cities in the world. The Chamber does all we can to support the Airport’s work because our members make it very clear how important good flight connections are in developing export trade, attracting tourists and bringing in investment.
But we also recognise that we are simply not big enough in Scotland to attract direct flight connections to all the destinations we want to reach. Our most important export industries include whisky and engineering, both of which have very wide global markets, so it’s important to have excellent linkages to the major hub airports as well. The double daily Emirates flight to Dubai is a great example of that.
Heathrow is our most heavily used hub airport, and there were several reasons why we decided to support their proposals for expansion many of which were set out in the 2015 Davies Commission final report.
Heathrow dominates the provision of long haul destinations, with some 70% of the UK’s long haul flights. One of the most telling comments Davies makes is on Gatwick’s greater emphasis on short haul routes, where Glasgow has greater prospect of attracting direct flights, and the likelihood that Gatwick’s expansion into long haul would most likely be into the routes with the thickest existing provision. Our main concern would therefore have been that the expansion into new territories especially in Asia and America would be more limited.
Secondly, the majority of our existing hubbing flights are into Heathrow, and our greatest existing daily flight frequency is also into Heathrow. Currently, there are up to 11 daily flights to Heathrow from Glasgow, and 40% of traffic is connecting to leading destinations including New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Boston, Zurich & Brussels. We were concerned that expansion at Gatwick would spread route connectivity across two airports and reduce the flexibility in flight planning that we get from concentrating on one primary hub.
In addition, Heathrow is the UK’s most important port by value, transporting our goods to global destinations. Last year, the biggest export by tonnage through Heathrow was fresh salmon from Scotland – almost £280m worth travelled through Heathrow, 84% of which was exported to the US and China.
Finally, the transport connections into Heathrow are better than Gatwick and that may only get more pronounced with the development of HS2.
Our support for Heathrow is not unconditional however. We have no hesitation in arguing for more daily flight connections into the airport once the third runway is in place. And with that we would welcome at least one additional carrier competing on the route for obvious reasons. We still feel the impact of bmi’s withdrawal in 2011, and we want that lost capacity back. We are also keen to see more of the Heathrow business supply chain developing in and around Glasgow. Heathrow is a very big business and we want more Glasgow companies to benefit from its annual expenditure budget.
First though we need to get the third runway built, and so we will be letting Glasgow’s MPs know that we support the decision to expand Heathrow.