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Northern airports offer mixed reactions to claim that Powerhouse will struggle without Heathrow expansion

Words: Laura Edgar

Airports in the north of England have responded to a claim by John Holland-Kaye that capacity constraints at Heathrow Airport mean that the Northern Powerhouse is losing out on £710 million a year in trade because passengers are forced to travel via other international hub airports.

Last week The Planner reported that Heathrow’s Airport’s chief executive said the Northern Powerhouse would “struggle” without a third runway at the London airport.

Holland-Kaye warned the government that its plans to transform the north of England into a Northern Powerhouse are “at risk” unless it acts on airport expansion.

But Ken O’Toole, CEO of Manchester Airport, said: “Increasing the number of direct flights people and businesses have access to is key to delivering the Northern Powerhouse vision and rebalancing the UK economy.”

He explained that Manchester Airport’s catchment area has been demonstrated recently, with Hainan Airlines’ direct service to Beijing was launched, giving the North its first non-stop flight to China. There are also a number of long-haul carriers choosing to launch routes to key markets around the world, including Singapore, Hong Kong, Boston and from next March, San Francisco.

O’Toole said these routes give the “North direct access to global destinations without the inconvenience of having to travel to London and all of them have brought significant trade benefits, with the new Hainan Airlines service alone set to deliver an economic impact of at least £250 million over the next decade”.

With 22 million people living within a two-hour drive of Manchester Airport, and spare capacity on two existing runways, “there is ample scope to grow our route network further and drive a re-energised Northern economy by attracting yet more long-haul services to key global markets”.

This is “particularly pertinent” in the context of a “congested South-East”, with no new capacity due to be delivered for at least 15 years, regardless of where a new runway is built, said O’Toole.

He concluded that the best outcome for business and leisure passengers in the short, medium and long term will be to “create a strong network of competing airports across the entire UK”.

On the other hand, Graeme Mason, planning and corporate affairs director at Newcastle International Airport, said the airport is in “support” of a third runway at Heathrow Airport.

Mason expressed support for both the Northern Powerhouse initiative and the creation of Transport for the North (TfN), which is composed of local representatives from across the North of England coming together as one voice.

The airport, he said, is encouraged at the work being undertaken with TfN, and has had good engagement with it.

Mason said Newcastle International Airport is the “international gateway” for the North-East, with Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow airports all some distance away.

Newcastle’s masterplan outlines proposals for its development up to 2030, including supporting 10,000 jobs across the region, an increase from 7,800. It is also planning to further expand its business park.

Both demonstrate how the airport is playing its part in developing a Northern Powerhouse, Mason said, something he feels it can play a key role in.

The airport has a number of key connections and hubs, including an established flight to Dubai and a recently begun United Airline flight to New York, as well as six flights to Heathrow, a “big service” for the North-East.

Therefore, Mason said the airport “supports the third runway at Heathrow in order to protect our hubs”.

From this, the airport hopes to at least maintain its flight frequency to Heathrow, opening it and its flights to emerging markets.

Image credit | Newcastle International Airport