Improving its passenger service would undercut Heathrow’s case for a 3rd runway
In much the same way as landowners, especially in the Green Belt, tend to try to let their land get into such bad condition that planners allow planning permission on it, so it is with Heathrow. A comment piece by Philip Stephens, an associate editor of the Financial Times, reflects how Heathrow has a vested interest in managing to make the service they provide inadequate. The more passengers are inconvenienced – and told it is because the airport is so full – the stronger Heathrow hopes its case becomes to be allowed to expand. Philip says: “Absolute genius…….[Heathrow wants passengers to believe that] … If the government gave the go-ahead for expansion – specifically a 3rd runway – all would be well. Try that again: the only way to improve the dismal lot of passengers is guarantee Heathrow still higher profits. As I said, brilliant!” And “Heathrow dominates London’s air traffic and the two companies [Heathrow and BA] have a quasi-monopoly. They are extracting large rents. This is how monopolists behave, the more so when overseen by a weak regulator. Most importantly, a half-decent level of passenger service would be counter-productive because it would undercut the case for that 3rd runway.”
“How Heathrow makes money out of misery”
Genius. Absolute genius. Stranded again at London’s Heathrow airport, I suddenly grasped the power of public relations. Heathrow may be one of the world’s worst as well as busiest airports, but its operator Heathrow Airport Holdings and lead airline British Airways have unearthed the philosopher’s stone. They have turned their manifest failings into a potentially golden asset.
It was the half-apology offered by a hapless employee that revealed the vaulting bravado of airport operator and airline. Yes, the baggage system was in meltdown and, yes, flight delays were nowadays the norm. The two companies, though, were blameless. The problem was that Heathrow was overcrowded. If the government gave the go-ahead for expansion – specifically a third runway – all would be well. Try that again: the only way to improve the dismal lot of passengers is guarantee Heathrow still higher profits. As I said, brilliant!
The economic case for a so-called mega-hub is undermined by HAH’s own figures and by advances in aviation technology. Heathrow admits that less than a third of its customers are the business travellers said to be vital to the regional economy. The rest are tourists, many of whom could quite happily travel from one of London’s three other airports. Transfer passengers account for less than 40 per cent of Heathrow’s traffic. They make money for HAH, but London’s gain is minimal. A new generation of fuel-efficient, sub-jumbo aircraft anyway heralds a shift towards more point-to-point journeys, undercutting the case for big hubs.
Maybe common sense will eventually prevail. Expansion of Heathrow would be madness. On the other hand, here is a sobering thought for the millions of passengers caught up in the traditional summer chaos at Heathrow: the more miserable your experience, the more likely those responsible will win a promise of still higher profits”
Full article at
Some comments from AirportWatch members:
Gatwick too uses the argument that increasing capacity would reduce delays. But the delays are not due to lack of capacity – they are due to scheduling more flights than the capacity can cope with – ie greed. There is no reason to believe that an increase in capacity would bring reduced greed. And the longer that passengers are kept in the airport the more money they spend there rather than on the high street.
In fact an airport will gain maximum profits when it is full – it only needs enough slack so that should routine variations in flight times etc do not cause it to back up so badly that it damages its reputation (so passengers and airlines go elsewhere) or so that it has to pay so much compensation that it would be cheaper to have less average custom. It is clear that the level at which this occurs is over 95% full – hence more capacity means (with a brief lag) MORE congestion.
Colin Matthew said, twice in my hearing, that he would like Heathrow to operate at about 97% capacity. That makes the best profit. It is always amazing to me how the airport makes out that this state of congestion is some sort of misfortune, visited upon it by some outside power – rather than entirely its own choice of operating mode. Let’s be clear: the degree to which Heathrow is “full” is completely its own choosing, and it is how it likes things to be.