Heathrow is a unique airport. It is the UK’s only hub airport combining local passengers with transfer passengers allowing airlines to fly to more destinations more frequently than could be supported by local demand alone.
Only six airports in the world fly to more than 50 long haul international destinations, and Heathrow is one.
However, despite Heathrow’s importance to the national economy, our case for expansion is too often seen as a local issue to be decided by local councils and local MPs. Our neighbouring businesses, residents and politicians are of course hugely important and we are adapting our plans where we can based on their views. But Heathrow is a national asset that connects the UK’s nations and regions to destinations that would otherwise be inaccessible.
The UK has a long history of being a successful island trading nation and is currently the world’s second largest exporter of commercial services and is the tenth largest exporter of goods. But the global economy is changing and if we are to build on the economic recovery then all parts of the UK need increased connectivity to the rest of the world.
We recently published a report, Heathrow: A National Asset which showcased 12 businesses, one from every nation and region of the UK, highlighting the importance of Heathrow to them and how expansion would help them realise their growth ambitions. For example, our featured firm in North Wales is relying on increased international investment in the region to boost its growth prospects. In Liverpool, an English language school requires new routes to continue to attract students from their growth areas that include Brazil, India and China.
What’s clear from these businesses and others across the country is that direct air connections support economic growth. UK businesses trade 20 times more with emerging markets with daily flights than those with less frequent or no direct services. Poor connectivity to emerging markets means the UK could be missing out on up to £14bn a year in lost trade, a figure that is forecast to nearly double to £26bn by 2030 if left unresolved.
Continuing to have one of the world’s best connected hub airports in the UK is therefore essential to delivering trade, jobs and economic growth that will otherwise go to our international competitors. Carrying sixty times more cargo than Gatwick and more freight exports and imports than every other UK airport combined, Heathrow is Britain’s most important port.
Some have suggested the answer to the aviation challenge the UK faces is not to build new capacity at Heathrow. But we need to make sure that we solve the problem we face. Heathrow is not opposed to Gatwick expanding but the urgent need is for additional hub capacity that will provide long haul links to emerging economies and the fastest growing markets. Gatwick is an excellent airport but it serves a different market to Heathrow, taking people to leisure destinations predominately by low cost airlines. Expanding our only hub airport, Heathrow, is the only way to make sure we can connect the UK with growth markets in the future.
The next Government has an opportunity to build on the country’s existing strength by supporting our £15 billion private investment in a new runway that provides additional capacity by 2025, creates 123,000 new jobs and connects the UK to 40 new destinations while reducing aircraft noise by 30% compared to today. This is a solution which is good for businesses, good for taxpayers, good for passengers and good for people living around the airport.
As the UK’s global gateway, it is our ambition to connect Heathrow directly to every part of the UK. As part of our new approach to taking Britain further, we have committed to working with Government, airlines and Network Rail to connect every nation and region to global markets, bringing the benefits of additional trade, tourism and economic growth to the whole country. Schemes like HS2 and Western Rail Access will make the Midlands, South Wales and the West of England more attractive locations for international business because of their direct links with a global hub airport.
We are determined to work together with businesses across all industries over the coming months to ensure the voice of the nations and regions are heard in this important debate. We thank LFIG for their support in making this vitally important argument for the future of the UK.
Nigel Milton is Director of Policy and Political Relations at Heathrow Airport