Airlines may get subsidies to fly long-haul from Birmingham Airport

16.6.2009   (Birmingham Post)

by Paul Dale

Airlines could be offered cut-price deals to operate from Birmingham International
Airport when an extension to the main runway has been completed.

A proposal to lure operators with subsidies for new routes emerged in a city
council study into the £120 million runway extension scheme.

Members of the regeneration scrutiny committee warned that adding 405 metres
to the runway was not guaranteed by itself to deliver the sharp growth in long-haul
flights to America, India and China, and the millions of pounds of extra business
that BIA is forecasting.

The regional economy will benefit significantly only if the airport, the city
council, regional development agency Advantage West Midlands and Marketing Birmingham
work together to persuade airlines to choose BIA above others.

One proposal being considered is setting up a route development fund to support airlines through the difficult launch period of a new service.

The idea is based on a decision by the North-east of England regional development
agency to back an Emirates service to Dubai out of Newcastle Airport.

The scrutiny report noted: "Evidence suggests that the airlines would provide
additional flights and new destinations if sufficient evidence was provided to
them of a genuine business opportunity."

But the proposal was condemned by West Midlands Friends of the Earth, which accused the council of "feather-bedding" the aviation industry.

Spokesman Chris Crean said:   "If airlines want to develop new routes at BIA, they should fund them from their
own pockets not rely on taxpayers’ money."

According to BIA’s own forecasts, the longer runway will generate an additional
£500 million for the local economy and create 11,000 new jobs by 2030.

Councillors were highly critical of the lack of easily accessible public transport
routes to BIA.

At the moment, only 20% of passengers travel to the airport by public transport
– a figure that BIA has promised to increase to 30% by 2020.

Flights begin from the airport at 6am, requiring passengers to check in by 4am.  
But the earliest train service to Birmingham International station arrives at
5.30am. On Sundays, the earliest train arrives after 8.30am.

At Manchester Airport, often regarded as Birmingham’s biggest rival, trains arrive
at 4.15am on weekdays and 4.35am on Sundays.

The scrutiny report concluded: "Unlike other airports with railway stations,
Manchester, Stansted and Gatwick for example, there is no 24-hour rail service
pattern, nor is there an appropriate night bus network."

An obligation on the airport to improve public transport links is a condition
of planning permission for the runway extension granted by Solihull Council.

Scrutiny committee chairman Tim Huxtable (Con Bournville) said Birmingham required
a "world class international gateway" if it was to become a "truly global city".

A longer runway was vital for providing non-stop long-haul flights but on its
own would not attract investment.

"The city council must play its part, working with the airport company and other
partners," he said.


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Comment from a reader:    

Unless I’ve misunderstood: what BIA are suggesting amounts to giving a subsidy
to airlines so that they transfer flights from airports x, y and z to Birmingham:
no net gain to UK plc, just a money-grabber for B’ham.   And these start-up subsidies
have a nasty habit of biting the grantor in the rear-end, since to keep them legal
they’re not a gift, but a deferment of fees that will have to be repaid 5-7 years
down the track.