The City–shorthand for Britain’s financial sector–is trying to flex its muscles with the British government over Heathrow Airport. Considered (inexplicably, to me) one of the world’s most desirable airports to fly in and out of due to its relative proximity to central London, Heathrow is losing its competitive edge to airports like Amsterdam’s, Frankfurt’s, and even Paris’s Charles de Gaulle. Business leaders are concerned that elite travelers’ distaste for Heathrow will affect financial activity in Britain. What’s wrong with Heathrow?
- Many terminals are falling into disrepair. They are poorly laid out and connections are difficult. Heathrow is in the early stages of a decades-long renovation process.
- Long lines, for tickets, security, customs, and immigration.
- Baggage-handling is troubled.
I’ve only flown through Heathrow once. It was neither particularly pleasant or unpleasant, but it was more crowded and congested than Gatwick, which is only a bit further from central London by fast train. I don’t see why Gatwick isn’t more popular with travelers and airlines than it is. But Heathrow’s not all that bad.
Perhaps the real problems with Heathrow, then, lie not with its management BAA or with the airport itself but with British aviation policy. In February, Britain’s Air Passenger Duty (APD) was doubled, ostensibly to suppress demand for air travel in order to cut back on emissions (not likely, but that’s for another post). The cost of a round trip jumped by as much as £160, making an international hub like Heathrow a less competitive place financially. London used to be one of the cheaper European gateways. And what has the effect been on traffic at Heathrow?
The latest passenger figures show the airport is losing travellers to other leading European hubs. There was a 1.8 per cent year-on-year fall in passenger traffic at Heathrow in June and a 1.2 per cent fall in the first half of this year, according to BAA.
Britain’s steep APD is hurting Heathrow, and to judge from the City’s concern, it’s hurting the British economy too. The City minister said that “the government was determined to prevent London’s competitiveness being eroded.” Heathrow is suffering the effects of the government’s policy. A competitive air travel fee structure would be a good way to fix the problem.
‘Hassle of Heathrow’ takes toll on City [Financial Times]