Mayor warns that regions could lose flights if third runway is built

20 October 2015

The Mayor of London is alerting business and political leaders around the country that they face the prospect of losing vital aviation routes to the UK’s only hub airport even if a third runway at Heathrow is given the go ahead.

The number of British cities served by Heathrow has plummeted by more than 60 per cent from 18 routes in 1990 to just seven today.

Today (20 October) the Mayor wrote to eleven regions and more than 480 key businesses around the country to highlight the fact that the Airports Commission itself has forecast that an expanded Heathrow would accommodate even fewer domestic routes – reducing the number of British airports connected to a UK hub from seven to four.* A multi-billion pound expansion of Heathrow would also only deliver a maximum of 12 new long-haul destinations, according to the Airports Commission – that’s fewer than the number of destinations we should be serving in China and India alone.

Hub airport connections are vital to the economic prosperity of Britain’s regional cities as they rely on connections to and from hub airports for international trade, tourism and for foreign investment.

Aviation experts agree that cities without hub connections with network airlines can become invisible to those seeking to do business. Since 1990, 11 UK airports have lost air service connections to the Heathrow hub: Birmingham, Durham Tees Valley, East Midlands, Guernsey, Humberside, Inverness, Isle of Man, Jersey, Liverpool, Newquay, and Plymouth.

The seven British cities which have retained a direct air service connection to Heathrow –Aberdeen, Belfast, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle – have all seen a reduction in the number of flights to Heathrow. On average the number of daily flights they operate to Heathrow has almost halved.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said: “Having connections with the UK hub airport is hugely important for our regional cities. Those connections allow businesses to trade and secure investment across the globe. But the truth is that Heathrow has been failing our regions for well over a quarter of a century and quite staggeringly the Airport’s Commission’s own analysis shows that construction of a third runway only worsens the situation. That is not how you rebalance the economy and spread prosperity across the UK. The only long-term solution that would enable British businesses to compete on a level playing field with our European competitors is to build a four-runway hub airport, and the only logical location for that airport is to the east of London.”

Last Friday (16 October) the former leader of the SNP and MP for Gordon, Alex Salmond, told the London Evening Standard: “Heathrow says it’s a private development, but it depends on at least £5 billion of public money, and that’s only the initial estimate. What we’d want to know is that if it were to be a development which depended on infrastructure spending, is that spending going to be properly Barnetted?

“The question I’ll ask is, ‘What guarantees will you give in terms of connectivity of Scottish destinations into either airport (Heathrow or Gatwick) if they become the choice?’ If the answer is, ‘There are no guarantees’, why on earth would we want to support it?”

With the Commission's own report concluding that connectivity to the regions and nations will decline it is extremely doubtful that any such guarantees, from Government or indeed from Heathrow, will be forthcoming. The Mayor of London has long argued that a new hub solution is required to address the connectivity issues that the SNP is now raising.

The erosion of access to the UK’s hub airport has left Britain’s regional cities with poorer connectivity to London. But perhaps more importantly Britain’s regions have also seen their global connectivity fall behind competing cities in mainland Europe. Statistics from the Official Airline Guide’s 2015 summer schedule for Europe show Heathrow served just 174 international destinations. Meanwhile Frankfurt served 259 international destinations, Amsterdam Schiphol 254 and Paris Charles De Galle 241.

Britain needs a hub airport with four runways in order to compete with the four runway airports in Europe, such as Frankfurt and Paris Charles De Galle, which have overtaken Heathrow. However, the Airports Commission has explicitly ruled out a fourth runway at Heathrow, not least in recognition of the increased air and noise pollution over London, and even goes as far as to propose legislating against it ever being built.

Cities in emerging markets not served by Heathrow but served by its European competitors with four or more runways include; Nanjing, Hangzhou, Chongqing, Wuhan, and Shenyang in China; Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania, Dakar in Senegal, Panama City, and the South American capitals of Santiago, Caracas, and Montevideo.

Ecco Finishing Supplies based in Middlesbrough draws half of its revenue from overseas trade - a five-fold increase in four years. The fact that the company trades in far flung places such as Angola, Canada, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Taiwan, Russia, the Philippines, and across the Middle East means managing director, Keith Miller often needs to fly out to emerging markets.

Keith Miller, managing director of Ecco Finishing Supplies, said: “What’s the point in building a three runway airport? We need to keep pace with the rest of the world, otherwise we’ll be left behind.

“International flight connections are essential for doing business. Going abroad and meeting your customer face-to-face is critical. I’ve got competitors who won’t fly abroad but they don’t seem to realise that the customer wants to a see a senior person. The customer wants a business relationship with you and Ecco will go wherever we need to go to see our customers and support them.”

“If we can’t expand Heathrow enough because of air pollution and noise pollution over London – a new four runway airport is a great idea. The UK can build an airport offshore. They’ve done it in Hong Kong and there’s nothing to say we can’t do it. We live in a global business world nowadays and if we don’t build an airport with enough capacity people will continue to make long-haul flights from Amsterdam or Paris."

Amulet Hotkey, which has its global headquarters in Newton Abbott in Devon, is a high-tech engineering and R&D company providing IT hardware and virtualisation solutions for the banking and defence industries.The company generates 80 per cent of its revenue internationally.

Phil Blades, chief marketing officer at Amulet Hotkey, said: “Global connectivity is a real challenge for businesses in the south west. One of our biggest business partners is Dell. It takes them nine hours to fly from Austin to Heathrow and then almost half as long again to travel to our factory. That’s ridiculous given how far we are in mileage terms. The lack of connectivity makes business difficult. It ends up taking two days to accommodate a three hour face-to-face meeting. That’s down to the logistics involved in getting people here – not the length of time we need for the meeting.

“Now we find out a three runway Heathrow isn’t going to improve aviation connections for the South West or take us where we want to go internationally. Given the cost involved in expanding Heathrow to three runways it is entirely reasonable to ask why do we not build a new four runway hub airport which provides us with the capacity for the domestic and international connections that SMEs need?”

The Mayor’s team are also calling for people to write to their local MP and ask whether the Government have given them any assurances that routes to their region from Heathrow will be protected or restored  by the construction of a third runway after decades of cuts.


A suggested letter is available for people to view at:



Notes to editors

*P21 Airports Commission: Final Report July 2015 - Figure ES.2: Heathrow expansion delivers greater long-haul connectivity than a second runway at Gatwick Number of daily destinations for each scheme, carbon-traded and carbon-capped, assessment of need, 2030-2050


Compared with: *P117 Table 6.1: Connectivity impacts of expansion options (See Figure ES.2: Heathrow expansion delivers greater long-haul connectivity than a second runway at Gatwick)


  • Heathrow Airport is owned by Alinda Capital Partners (United States), Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (via Britannia Airport Partners) (Canada), CIC International (via Stable Investment Corporation) (China), Ferrovial Group (Spain), GIC Special Investments (via Baker Street Investment) (Singapore), Qatar Holdings (Qatar) and the Universities Superannuation Scheme (UK)."