Air UK – the hub of the debate?

Air UK – the hub of the debate?

18/12/2013 Written by: Stacey Carter

Even with the Davis Commission there is a major question the UK still seems unable to face up to; do we need a large hub airport in the UK to remain appropriately connected to the rest of the world? The general consensus is the UK needs to increase its runway capacity but couldn’t we build additional runways at existing airports to meet demand? This would achieve a similar level of connectivity to major cities without the economic, social and environmental impact of building a new hub airport. 

It is difficult to forecast the exact capacity needs in the coming years. We are in the midst of a digital revolution; with the progression of video conferencing, phone connectivity and handheld devices, holding face to face meetings without actually being present has never been easier. The progression of digital connectivity will have a long term impact on the necessity for business travel. The digital option to companies is low cost, time efficient and environmentally friendly. However one must not rule out the importance of personal interface in developing business relationships…

With new markets emerging around the globe and the creation of new hub airports to meet increased travel demands there is now far more competition in the aviation arena.  The UK would be competing with new hub airports in Dubai and Istanbul for example, and existing ones such as Schiphol in Amsterdam, most of which have better existing infrastructure, and in many cases better geographical locations. If you are choosing a location on the world map for a large hub airport you wouldn’t necessarily choose the northern border of Europe... 

Currently the UK is still amongst the best connected countries in the world. Our airports, particularly those in the South East, deliver direct flights to over 360 destinations including those with greatest economic importance. But Heathrow is operating at 98% capacity which means there is little operational resilience; should a flight have a problem in the airspace above Heathrow or on the ground it has a domino effect on the other flights scheduled that day and this causes major disruption . If we adopt a distributed hub concept we will remain connected and gain further resilience at our existing hub airport Heathrow. 

Zoe Metcalfe, aviation director BuroHappold, comments, “ An incremental approach to our short term and long term capacity requirements safeguards against cultural changes in how we operate in business, and also recognises that the UK is unique and requires a bespoke solution.  For example we are already seeing changes in how we use our travel time to work when commuting by rail, so arguably the introduction of the new HSB2, high speed rail solution, to decrease journey time has a very limited application to our small Island.  Heathrow Airport needs to be part of this bespoke solution, by enabling an additional runway to deliver resilience, reduce noise, improve the passenger experience and thereby better future proofing against the unexpected and minimising delays.”

A new hub airport would give the UK better city to city flight options. However, a hub would be far more expensive than expanding our existing  airports and despite offers from China, the UK taxpayers would still ultimately pay the financial cost. If we expand our regional airports we will have to occasionally include an interchange in our journey but if you want to reach a destination would that really affect your decision to travel? Is a single stopover on a journey really worth the cost of financing a new airport, abandoning Heathrow and its surrounding businesses and workforce… Is the occasional non-direct flight worth the upheaval?  

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