In its submission to the Airports Commission SSE rebuffs claims that the UK faces an airport capacity crisis
Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) has rebuffed claims that the UK is facing an airport capacity crisis which is damaging the UK economy. Contrary to aviation industry pleading for more runways, SSE says there simply isn’t the demand for more business flights or more routes to emerging markets. The SSE comments appear in their submission to the Airports Commission discussion paper on ‘Aviation Connectivity and the Economy’. SSE makes it clear that it is the corporate interests of the UK aviation lobby rather than concern for UK Plc that is driving calls for additional runways, highlighting specific examples to back this up. Heathrow, for example, flew more people to Miami last year than to the whole of mainland China, and more people to Nice than to either Beijing or Shanghai. SSE also reminds those caught up in the whirl of aviation industry spin that London continues to be independently ranked as the best city in Europe for doing business and as the city with the best transport links with other cities and internationally. Their submission is well worth reading.
20.4.2013 (Stop Stansted Expansion)
Aviation crisis rebuffed
Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) has rebuffed claims that the UK is facing an airport capacity crisis which is damaging the UK economy.
Contrary to aviation industry pleading for more runways, SSE says there simply isn’t the demand for more business flights or more routes to emerging markets.
The campaign group’s comments appear in its submission to the Airports Commission discussion paper on ‘Aviation Connectivity and the Economy’.
The response makes clear that it is the corporate interests of the UK aviation lobby rather than concern for UK Plc that is driving calls for additional runways, highlighting specific examples to back this up. Heathrow, for example, flew more people to Miami last year than to the whole of mainland China, and more people to Nice than to either Beijing or Shanghai. Meanwhile, Gatwick flew almost 50 times as many people to Spain last year as to the four BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India and China – combined.
As far as Stansted is concerned, operators provide flights every day of the week to Alicante but none at all to any of Europe’s main business centres such as Paris, Zurich and Frankfurt.
SSE also reminds those caught up in the whirl of aviation industry spin that London continues to be independently ranked as the best city in Europe for doing business and as the city with the best transport links with other cities and internationally. In recent years, London has stretched its lead over Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam, in direct contradiction to some of the claims made by the airlines and airport operators. London’s airports also serve more passengers than any other world city and more destinations than any other European city.
Commenting on its response document, SSE’s economics adviser, Brian Ross, said: “We are clearly demonstrating that the UK has neither an airport capacity crisis nor a connectivity crisis. If there was demand for another 100 flights a day to China, there would be ample capacity to accommodate that straightaway. In fact, the overall demand for business flights is declining: overseas business trips by UK residents have fallen by a fifth since 2000.”
“The UK has more commercial runways than either Germany, France, Spain or Italy,” he added. “We even have more runway capacity than Japan – also an island trading nation – which has double our population and twice our GDP.”
The Airports Commission, chaired by Sir Howard Davies, has been tasked by the Government to examine options for maintaining the UK’s status as a global aviation hub. It will produce an interim report towards the end of this year and its final recommendations by the mid-2015.
· SSE’s submission to the Airports Commission on ‘Aviation Connectivity and the Economy’ can be found at SSE Submission to Airports Commission – Aviation Connectivity and the Economy (April 2013) · (12 pages). Reference sources for all of the factual points made above are provided within SSE’s submission.
SSE’s two earlier submissions can also be found at
The Commission’s discussion paper on Connectivity and the Economy is at Discussion Paper 02 aviation connectivity and the economy
The submission by GACC (Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign) to the Airports Commission discussion paper on Aviation Connectivity and the Economy is at
Connectivity Response from GACC March 2013 (6 pages) also very worth reading.
Below are a few extracts from the SSE response:
As the Commission’s discussion paper points out, London’s airports serve more passengers than any other world city and more destinations than any other European city. Thus, the UK has neither a capacity crisis nor a connectivity crisis.
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…. Also, when considering the UK’s air connectivity, it is vital to consider the interests of all of the regions of the UK. Indeed, we would submit that the need for – and the potential benefits of – improved air connectivity and economic growth is far greater in the UK’s regions than in London and the South East.
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Connectivity analysis is a relatively recent analytical tool. There is no mention of the word ‘connectivity’ in the 2003 ‘Future of Air Transport’ White Paper (‘ATWP’), nor in the consultation documents which preceded it, and nor – so far as we can see – in any of the 68 studies which underpinned it. We also note that the concept of connectivity analysis has been promoted largely by the aviation industry, its consultants and others working to promote its interests.
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As matters stand, the market does not appear to have any great appetite for more flights to the BRIC countries. In 2012, Heathrow flew more passengers to Miami than to all of mainland China and more passengers to Nice than to either Beijing or Shanghai, and Gatwick flew almost 50 times as many passengers to Spain as to all four BRIC countries combined.
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It is also worth noting that when Virgin Atlantic recently acquired 12 pairs of ex-BMI slots at Heathrow, it decided to use all of these for domestic UK feeder services into Heathrow. The importance of feeder services to the success of a hub-and-spoke model is well understood but it is surprising that not even one of these pairs was allocated to China. It was not long beforehand that Virgin’s CEO was arguing vehemently that the UK needed more air services to China if we were to avoid falling further behind our European competitors and damaging the UK’s economic prospects.
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It is interesting to look also at what the 2011 Cushman & Wakefield (C&W) survey report had to say about transport links:
‘Companies were asked which are the top three cities in terms of transport links with other cities and internationally. The top five cities again remain static, although the gap between London, the top ranked location and second placed Paris has widened further. London was the only city in the top five to see its score improve, with perceptions of Paris, Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Brussels all weakening over the year.’ 7 [our emphasis]
This assessment by European businesses is very different from the picture painted by the aviation industry, namely, that London’s competitive position is being eroded as a consequence of a lack of air connectivity and that Heathrow is losing out to Paris, Frankfurt and Schiphol.
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The Commission’s ‘Connectivity’ discussion paper repeatedly emphasises the importance of good air connectivity to the business sector. The reality however is that the amount of business travel by air has been declining for a long time:
Business travel accounted for 32% of air travel in 1995, 24% in 2000 and 20% in 2011;
Overseas business trips by UK residents have fallen by a fifth since 2000 and only one in eight overseas trips by UK residents in 2011 was for business purposes;
Stansted catered for just 2.8m business passengers in 2011, less than a sixth of all its passengers and its lowest number of business passengers for ten years.
The Commission’s ‘Connectivity’ discussion paper also points out that the UK’s trade with the BRIC nations has increased five-fold over the past two decades. Over the same 20-year period, the volume of air passenger traffic between the UK and the BRIC nations has increased rather less dramatically, from 1.7% of total air passenger traffic to 2.7%. Whilst it is important to ensure that the UK continues to be well connected to the world’s fastest growing economies, it is also important to have a proper sense of perspective.
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We would submit that where an air connection is established to meet demand for outbound leisure flights, which is predominantly the case in the UK, then it is GDP growth which is driving the increase in connectivity, not connectivity which is driving GDP growth. On the other hand, where an air connection is established primarily to serve the needs of business – either passengers or freight – or to facilitate inbound tourism, then the improved connectivity should help to bring about improvements in labour productivity which will lead to GDP growth.
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Finally, it may be useful to consider connectivity in a pan-European, Single Market context and not simply a UK context and to look upon the main EU hub airports not so much as as the UK’s competitors (the traditional DfT view) but as potential partners. There may, for example, be scope to develop complementary networks of air connections at the EU’s main airports, in much the same way as airlines form global alliances to build on one another’s market strengths. Such an approach might help the EU aviation sector to compete with the emerging ‘superconnector’ airlines and airports of the Gulf states. However, whilst governments may have a role to play in facilitating this type of pan-European cooperation, the determination of where airlines should fly to and from must ultimately be a commercial, not a political, determination.
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