Heathrow: London’s local airport or UK’s national airport?

British Airways regional connections under pressure

It may seem an absurd question, but perhaps the time has come to treat the country’s busiest airport as ‘UK Heathrow’ rather than ‘London Heathrow’.

Heathrow Terminal 5 view of runwayJust as the Houses of Parliament are located in London but representative of the UK as a whole, so Heathrow, while being located in London, could easily be construed as a national airport that has to serve the interests of the entire country.

Last week, the Davies Commission on airport capacity published its first discussion paper. One of the most telling points it raised was that Heathrow is only connected to 7 other UK airports, the lowest number for many years and a figure that is in danger of falling still further.  Even Amsterdam is connected to more destinations in the UK than Heathrow.

British Airways aircraft parked in front of Heathrow Terminal 5With no spare runway capacity at Heathrow, British Airways is under intense financial pressure to squeeze as much revenue as possible out of its existing slots. What this means is that the airline is being forced to make increasingly difficult choices, ones that may see low volume links to the likes of Belfast & Leeds/Bradford sacrificed for flights to the fast growing cities of Asia.

Of course we need these new routes but should only London and the South East benefit? Ask politicians and the business community anywhere in Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland and the North of England whether connectivity to Heathrow is important and you will get a resounding Yes. Are they not entitled to a say in Heathrow’s future?

Some politicians have called for legislation that sets aside a certain number of slots at Heathrow for regional connections. In reality this would prove difficult to enforce legally- Heathrow is a private business after all – and impossible to manage.

The only way in which regional connections can be both protected, and indeed added to, is by an increase in capacity. Whether this is by means of new runways at Heathrow or a brand new London airport, the next government must act in the national interest.

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