London Heathrow Queries Gatwick’s Ability to Add Long-Haul Links

Heathrow Airport Ltd., the owner of London’s biggest aviation hub, said that rival Gatwick airport lacks the connections to support long-haul services to emerging markets as the two vie for the right to add runways and flights.

Heathrow has submitted evidence to a government commission that’s assessing U.K. capacity requirements which challenges Gatwick’s expansion bid and lists 20 carriers that have scrapped long-haul routes there since 2008, it said in a statement today.

“Gatwick’s proposal to prevent Heathrow expanding while adding a new runway at its own airport endangers Britain’s future competitiveness,” Heathrow Chief Executive Officer Colin Matthews said. “It is a zero-hub solution that will lead to an irreversible decline in Britain’s international connections.”

Today’s comments mark an escalation in the rivalry between Britain’s two leading airports as a task-force led by former Financial Services Authority chief Howard Davies gauges the best way to meet future capacity needs. Heathrow wants to add a third runway for as much as 18 billion pounds ($29 billion), while Gatwick has said it could build a second for as little as 5 billion pounds, doing away with a single U.K. hub.

Airlines including Air China Ltd. and Korean Air Lines Co. have recently canceled flights out of Gatwick to high-growth Asian economies, while PT Garuda Indonesia delayed the start of services this winter, Heathrow said. US Airways Group Inc. has also ended flights to Charlotte, North Carolina, this year.

Continental Threat

Gatwick, once a sister airport of Heathrow under BAA Ltd. and now controlled by U.S.-based Global Infrastructure Partners following a forced breakup, said in a statement that many of the route losses came during the previous ownership. Heathrow itself has lost 15 long-haul services to key destinations since April, 2012, among them flights to Singapore, Mumbai and Bangkok.

“Heathrow is clearly worried about having to compete for the first time in London,” it said. “Gatwick remains absolutely focused on securing new short and long destinations, bringing more choice, destinations and better fares.”

The U.K. economy will be best served by maximizing the number of available destinations by sticking with a single hub airport where the supply of transfer passengers makes more routes viable, or risk losing out to rivals like Frankfurt and Paris Charles de Gaulle, Matthews said in the statement.

Britain’s trade gap could almost double to 26 billion pounds by 2030 if nothing is done to improve the country’s air transport links, Heathrow said in a November report.

Commission Chairman Howard Davies said in November he’d examine all options for securing additional runway capacity in southeast England, including the upgrading of Heathrow, which Mayor Johnson has said should be demolished because of the noise from planes approaching over London. The politician favors a new hub in the Thames Estuary or expansion of Stansted to the north.

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