UK airports losing business due to Heathrow slots, committee hears

House of Commons group says space shortage at London airport costing regional hubs

The House of Commons has heard that the number of flights linking smaller British airports to international flights from Heathrow has ‘steadily declined over the last decade’ because of a shortage of landing slots at the London airport. Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire

The House of Commons has heard that the number of flights linking smaller British airports to international flights from Heathrow has ‘steadily declined over the last decade’ because of a shortage of landing slots at the London airport. Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire

 

The number of flights linking smaller British airports to international flights from Heathrow has “steadily declined over the last decade” because of a shortage of landing slots at the London airport, a House of Commons committee has said.

Northern Ireland has lost jobs, business and flight routes because of the lower air passenger duties imposed by the Irish Government, which gives Dublin Airport a significant advantage, the MPs claimed.

Just four airports in Britain and Northern Ireland have direct links to Heathrow - Aberdeen, Belfast City, Leeds-Bradford and Newcastle.

“Constrained capacity has damaged domestic air connectivity from smaller airports to Heathrow,” the committee said.

Many smaller airports have already withdrawn flights to Heathrow and replaced them with flights to European hub airports, such as Amsterdam-Schiphol, Frankfurt and Paris Charles de Gaulle.

However, Heathrow remains a key airport for international and long-haul travel for many UK passengers.

The Airports Commission, which is investigating plans to build a third runway at Heathrow, said that connections to other European hubs help connectivity “but are not an adequate replacement for links to Heathrow”.

“Heathrow offers strong connectivity to a number of important markets, notably North America, which is not replicated at other hub airports.”

“The value of regional links to Heathrow is demonstrated by the fall in passenger numbers at smaller airports where such services were withdrawn. For example, Durham Tees Valley airport experienced a 75 per cent reduction in passenger numbers following the withdrawal of its Heathrow service in 2009.”

Routes abandoned

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has found that airlines have abandoned regional routes to Heathrow because “the lack of runway capacity at Heathrow . . . has probably priced off services that generate a smaller profit per slot”.

“Although an increase in hub capacity in the southeast would deliver more slots for airlines, the economic barrier to regional connectivity to smaller airports highlighted by the CAA would still apply, because the slots would be released in tranches to maintain demand.”

The CAA said the whole of the UK will only be able to share in the benefits of an expanded Heathrow “if that expansion entails airlines securing sufficient slots to maintain services to smaller airports in the English regions, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland”.

The committee said existing rules governing allocation of slots are opaque and that the department of transport should set down new rules and investigate whether some slots could be ring-fenced for domestic services to smaller airports.

The committee said it was unhappy about the impact of lower passenger charges in the Republic on Northern Irish airports and that Dublin Airport enjoys “a significant advantage” over Belfast City and International airports.

Belfast International Airport said one-and-a-half million journeys made in Northern Ireland have transferred to Dublin, costing it 1,500 jobs and £30 million (about €42 million) approximately in wages and salaries.

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