The FINANCIAL — New research by Frontier Economics confirms that only Heathrow can sustain the frequent, long-haul routes to emerging markets that will be key to the UK’s strong economic future and the Government’s Brexit plan.
Gatwick Airport has long claimed it can provide the global connectivity needed to boost the British economy, heralding new emerging market connections as evidence that it is “in the premier league of long-haul airports”.
Yet the new research shows that it would be a gamble for the UK to stake its future connectivity on those claims. While Gatwick can sustain some frequent long-haul routes, mostly to leisure destinations, it cannot sustain the frequent long-haul routes to emerging markets that businesses in Britain needs for trading in a post-Brexit era, according to Heathrow.
Both Gatwick and Heathrow have lost and gained new long-haul routes in the period between 2010 and 2016:
Gatwick made a total net loss of four, frequent long-haul routes – despite having spare capacity.
By contrast, Heathrow, with capacity constraints, made a net gain of six new, frequent long-haul connections.
But it is the type of routes won and lost by Gatwick which shows it cannot adequately sustain routes to emerging markets. Between 2010 and 2016:
Gatwick lost 12 routes, seven of which were to emerging markets including Mexico City, Beijing and Jakarta. And while it gained eight new long-haul routes only two were to emerging markets: Lagos and Lima.
By contrast, Heathrow lost 10 long-haul routes, of which three were to emerging markets but it gained 16 new long-haul routes of which nine were to emerging markets including Jakarta, Guanghzhou and Chengdu.
Another clear differential is the frequency of services. Of the 83 long haul destinations served by Heathrow, 52 are daily connections, compared to Gatwick’s nine. Research has shown that one of the key factors to increasing trade with emerging markets is a direct air flight, which helps deliver up to 20 times more trade possible when there is a one.
The findings paint a clear picture as to why long-haul airlines overwhelmingly choose to operate from a hub airport like Heathrow. The demand created by a combination of direct and transfer passengers with freight makes such routes viable and more frequent. That’s why as the UK’s global hub, Heathrow’s connections allow British exporters to trade with all the growing markets of the world, strengthening Britain’s position as one of the great trading nations.
Commenting on the figures, Heathrow’s Director of Strategy Andrew MacMillan said:
“A global, outward looking, nation needs Heathrow expansion now more than ever. Even with Heathrow at capacity, this analysis clearly shows that Gatwick is unable to sustain long-haul, emerging market routes.
Whilst Gatwick is a great point-to-point airport, only Heathrow has the passenger demand and freight infrastructure that makes trading routes to Asia, Africa and the Americas viable long-term.
At a time of uncertainty, Heathrow expansion would create up to 180,000 jobs and up to £211bn in economic benefit, which is why a third runway is key to the Government’s Brexit plan. Any other option would be a high-risk gamble with Britain’s economic future.”
Many of the airlines providing new connections and with an increased frequency have waited years for available slots at Heathrow and some have switched from Gatwick because of the demand the hub provides. For example:
Garuda Indonesia switched its service from Gatwick to Heathrow in 2016 after a seven-year wait. In doing so it was able to increase its service frequency from three to five flights a week and introduced the UK’s first non-stop flight to Indonesia because of demand at Heathrow;
Charlotte Douglas, a major US financial centre and energy business centre and one of the fastest growing areas in the USA, was only served daily from Gatwick but it is now served in twice-daily in a joint venture between American Airlines and BA, since moving to Heathrow;
Hanoi was a twice-weekly service but is now served three times a week since Vietnam Airlines moved to Heathrow from Gatwick.
Critical to Heathrow’s success in winning and sustaining long-haul routes is air freight – carried in the cargo hold of passenger aircraft.
As the Airports Commission report stated:
“Heathrow is by far the largest and most important UK airport for freight.”
It went on to state that Heathrow is “better placed to accommodate high frequencies of less thick long-haul connections and … thus more attractive for freight handling. Another attractive feature of Heathrow for the freight sector is its central position on the strategic road network.”
By comparison “as there currently is only a limited freight-handling operation at Gatwick, any significant growth in the cargo sector at Gatwick would require a significant investment by third parties to develop freight-handling facilities. The scheme’s masterplan does not explicitly provide for additional freight-handling capacity”.
Only Heathrow has plans to significantly increase its cargo-handling capacity to exploit the opportunities that greater connectivity brings for British businesses trading with existing and new markets.
Andrew MacMillan added: “Quite simply, this new research confirms the same conclusion that the Airports Commission came to, that increased connectivity is best served by expanding Heathrow.”