Business News Balancing need for connectivity

Postcard from Bahrain April, 2020 Paul Kehoe, past president of Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce and now chief executive of Gulf Air, based in Bahrain, weighs up the needs of the aviation industry and the climate change agenda.

expectations but quickly became the time when the four horsemen of the apocalypse made their presence felt across the planet. Fires have been raging in the


hottest summer in Australian meteorological history, the wettest February on record in the UK has just happened, a plague of locusts has attacked the Gulf from Africa and then the new “black death” is now surging around the earth borne by world travellers. Covid-19, having had its origins in a simple live animal market in Wuhan, China, has resulted in deaths, panic and a severe economic impact. This is the stuff of Hollywood Blockbuster movies. Except this is reality. Of course, the current situation

has been amplified by the very tool that was supposed to make our lives simpler, the smart phone. The connected world is literally a few clicks away and stories true or false, flood into our hand-held devices and colour our perceptions of, well, just about everything. In addition, the rolling news outlets, keen to fill up on any news in their 24-hour schedule, will take stories and magnify them with a very much “publish and be damned” attitude. Twenty years ago, we assumed

that technology and electronic connectedness would replace travel and our world would be very electric. However, here we are today, reliant on all forms of media including travelling to undertake our business and, in our leisure time, we still prefer to see, touch and feel the sights and sounds of beautiful places and have social interaction with family and friends. The consequence of this has been the increasing rise in travel and transportation both domestically and internationally. Notwithstanding the current

pandemic and the recent woes of Boeing with its B737-Max flight and production problems, there is still a

26 CHAMBERLINK April 2020

here can be no doubt that 2020 will be the year and decade that started with great

burgeoning demand for new aircraft. As economies grow, people still have a desire to travel. While some business can be done electronically, leisure and visiting friends and relations require a physical trip to another location and that requires a vehicle. In the case covering long distances quickly, this means aircraft and the current demand is such that supply cannot sate it.

‘Typically, a hub airport has a minimum of two runways but sometimes up to as many as six or seven’

For example, look at the UK air

market; in 2019 there were 56 or so licensed airports generating about 300m passenger air trips from a population base of about 67m people. The UK used to be the second largest air market in the world behind the USA but now it is dropping down the league table having been overtaken by China generating 660m air trips and India some 345m air trips respectively in 2019. The combined population base of both countries, at 2.6bn people, will have a massive impact if they ultimately travel at the propensity to fly rate of UK and US markets.

Open for business: Bahrain International Airport

Tim Clark, the retiring CEO of

Emirates, has suggested that when Asia really starts to fly, there will not be enough capacity to cope with the demand. And he should know, he built his airline strategy on a big hub, Dubai, being served by large aircraft Boeing 777 with 400 seats serving some markets directly but also feeding his 100 aircraft fleet of 600 seat Airbus A380s. It was and is still the best example of a strategy well executed over a 35-year span. The airline and its Dubai airport

base have been very successful; the shift eastwards of centre of gravity of the world economy, the success of the hub and spoke model of operation has been operationally sound for the UAE with two possible exceptions; one, changing consumer demand and, two, the infrastructure to support the operation. The first and most fundamental is

that now the consumer wants something else. If you encourage people to do something, they usually comply, and you end up on a winning streak but then, like any market, along come disruptors or other innovators and start to change the way things are done. The rise of low-cost carriers and

point-to-point operations has largely removed the need for using an air hub to connect on short-haul flying. The fact that LCCs (Limited

Liability Corporations) do fly to major hubs is testament to the type and value of the passenger that use the hub. The second factor is

infrastructure. Big hubs require big technology to handle the passengers. Typically, a hub airport has a minimum of two runways but sometimes up to as many as six or seven. With leviathan aircraft, like the A380 or B777 serving these airports, a space of around 90-100 metres span is required to park each one of them. Imagine if just 25 of your fleet are on the ground at once – you might need some 2.5km of parking space to accommodate them as well as the 4km (x2) of runway length to get them into the air and back down again. It is big league stuff and currently

the UK’s leading airport, London Heathrow, is at capacity. If Britain wishes to be in the forefront of aviation connectivity, infrastructure and capacity must be provided to serve that opportunity. We have had numerous plans and Government inquiries over the years looking at this vexed problem. There is no easy solution, everyone likes the connectivity but not the consequences of having the facility in their backyard. Now add into that mix a Swedish

schoolgirl who tells world politicians that they are “setting the earth on fire” and the whole environmental debate is brought into mainstream media. The immediate impact of Greta Thunberg’s school strike strategy has been a massive increase in environmental awareness and a consequent fall in aviation traffic in Sweden and a slowing in traffic growth across Europe. The environmental protection

surge and the UK Government’s own climate change commitments have recently resulted in a Court ruling that said that the approved expansion at the UK’s only hub airport is incompatible with the Government’s own climate commitments and therefore is

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