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Departures


FLYING WITHIN...


...the UK and Ireland


AT THE dawn of 2012, the year of HM The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics and Paralympics, airport and airline bosses across the UK will be hoping they can draw a line under the events of the past few years, perhaps even benefit from the allure of these glittering events, writes Colin Ellson. From the Icelandic ash cloud that grounded


aircraft in 2010 to the economic crisis biting deep into load factors, the aviation industry has been battling against overwhelming odds. Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) figures reveal


that some 20 million passengers flew on domestic routes in 2010, compared to around 22 million the previous year, a drop of nine per cent, although that can partly be attributed to a switch to rail travel. A crumb of comfort is that in July last year the number of travellers had risen to 23.5 million, a year-on-year increase of 1.7 per cent. Nevertheless, Jim French, chairman and


CEO of Flybe, which carries seven million passengers a year – 70 per cent of which is on domestic flights – has declared an end to the boom in domestic air travel. Pointing out that flights around the UK and Ireland have dropped by 20 per cent over the past four years, he adds: “This is a combination of the economic and business cutbacks over the period, but I truthfully think the market was over supplied.”


Not any more. Both Ryanair and easyJet have scaled down on domestic routes, and bmibaby is focusing on airports where it has a strong market presence with potential for growth, axing operations from Cardiff and Manchester at the end of last summer. Another body blow for the industry was the closure of Air Southwest at the end of September 2011. This particularly hit Newquay, which lost key routes to Aberdeen, Bristol, Dublin and Leeds Bradford, its only connection this winter to London Gatwick with Flybe. The issues facing Britain’s regional airports


are part of a bigger picture, according to Mike Carrivick, CEO of the Board of Airline Representatives in the UK (BAR UK), who pinpoints the lack of airport capacity in the South East as a major factor in their decline. “The impact is being felt right now,” he says,


“and nowhere more so than at Heathrow, where domestic routes are likely to continue to reduce as airlines are forced to use their precious slots to serve much needed new routes to emerging long-haul destinations. “This compounds the problem, as reducing


air connectivity from the rest of the UK to London not only impacts regional businesses but diminishes Heathrow’s vital hub status.” Another issue facing the UK’s smaller gateways is the rise and rise of rail. The Association of Train Operating Companies


reports intercity journeys have increased by 19 per cent since 2007, boosting rail’s market share versus that of the airlines on the Top 10 domestic air routes from 32 to 44 per cent. So much for the negative. Now airports and airlines are pinning some of their hopes on increased passenger numbers in terms of visitors travelling to join in the Diamond Jubilee celebrations and to watch the Olympics, both with events at regional venues. The main beneficiary will be Heathrow, host airport for the Games. Some 10,500 athletes and 250,000 overseas visitors are expected to pass through the gateway between July 27 and August 12; American TV network NBC alone plans to send some 4,000 producers, technicians and journalists to London. They will be greeted and assisted by 1,000


Team Heathrow volunteers, who will have their work cut out the day after the Games’ closing ceremony. Forecast to be the busiest day in Heathrow airport’s history, on August 13, it will have to handle an estimated 218,000 departing bags – compared to the previous record of 160,000 – some 15 per cent of which is oversized sports equipment such as canoes, vaulting poles and bikes. If Heathrow is sure to win gold in the airports marathon, regional airports will be hoping to pick up silver and bronze as visitors opt for air travel to explore the UK.


80 I THE BUSINESS TRAVEL MAGAZINE


© BRITAIN ON VIEW


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