This piece is a response to John Kay’s essay on Heathrow in the October issue of Prospect
John Kay’s piece on the case for expanding Heathrow is another interesting perspective on this important debate. Kay raises some good points but he doesn’t cover the importance of air freight, nor the basics of how hub airports work or the role that Heathrow plays as a piece of national infrastructure. It also relies on assumptions the Airports Commission rejected as part of their comprehensive three year investigation into the future aviation needs of the UK.
Only six airports in the world have regular flights to over 50 long haul destinations. Heathrow has 82 which shows how unique and valuable it is. As the UK’s only hub airport, Heathrow is a national asset that benefits passengers, airlines and business because it brings domestic traffic (those from the capital and UK regions) together with short haul traffic (European airports) and freight to ensure more people and goods are pooled together. That is why four out of five of all UK long haul flights are from Heathrow and why long haul routes at other London airports have struggled to become sustainable.
Heathrow has around 140 flights a day to the US, which makes Britain the best place in Europe for US companies to do business. It has regular flights to the great trading centres of the world—three a day to Shanghai, seven to Hong Kong—and in the evenings, every half hour to JFK. Heathrow is a piece of critical infrastructure that puts Britain right at the heart of the global economy, and allows it to be one of the world’s great trading nations. And Heathrow benefits the whole of the UK, not just the South East. For instance with up to 9 flights a day to Aberdeen, Heathrow connect Scotland’s oil industry with its markets in Houston, Baku, Kuwait or Lagos.
Heathrow is not only the UK’s global gateway; it is the country’s biggest port, handling over a quarter of exports by value—from British-made pharmaceuticals sent to third world countries, high tech components for Formula 1 cars and…