Regional airports: the saving grace?

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With the Heathrow vs. Gatwick contest seemingly kicked, once again, into the Parliamentary long grass now that issues around 'Brexit' are at the forefront of everyone's mind, it feels like any decision on airport expansion is a long way off! Even if there were a decision tomorrow, we are still looking at roughly 10 years before any new infrastructure could even be operational. So, there's plenty to moan about inside the aviation world, besides the wet English summer!

But, this situation does present an opportunity for the 'regional' airports in the UK, all too often the sideshow to London. The majority of these airports have plenty of existing space adding valuable extra capacity, though they can suffer from other constraints such as airspace restrictions, local planning constraints and ageing terminal and passenger handling infrastructure. These issues can all be fixed: indeed the airports at Birmingham, Manchester, London City, Luton and Stansted are all in some stage of a major upgrade program.
As passenger numbers continue their upward trajectory, underpinned by the continued success of the low-cost short haul market, the spoke-to-hub long-haul services by the likes of Emirates and Turkish, and now the reincarnation of low-cost long-haul services by airlines like Norwegian, there really is a window of opportunity here for airports that have been formally excluded from the London debate.

With the public backing of low-cost airlines and favouring of direct routes on long haul services, the capacity constraints at Heathrow and Gatwick can help to redistribute traffic to the UK's other airports. So, if airports away from London can attract passengers, invest in their infrastructure and expand their routes, then there is the huge opportunity to build loyalty, ensuring passengers continue to fly from them, even after any London airport expansion. Ironically, HS2 provides the aviation market with a huge opportunity should it provide station connectivity along its route from London.

The constant delay regarding south east airport expansion is drastically limiting the ability of airlines to enter or expand at Heathrow and, increasingly, at Gatwick. While the UK prevaricates, other international hub airports, such as Schiphol, Paris, Istanbul and Dubai continue to grow and capitalise on their ever growing market share. The saving grace is that UK regional airports can increasingly accommodate the unfulfilled UK demand and make the most of what has become a bad situation.

Could this be the era of a resurgence in regional airports after years of struggling against a London-centric aviation market?

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Adam Johnson
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