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Birmingham-Heathrow spat reaches new heights in press release war

Birmingham-Heathrow spat reaches new heights in press release war

🕔02.Apr 2014

Relations between Birmingham Airport and Heathrow, never very good at the best of times, appear to have skidded off the runway and crash landed.

The subject of the latest spat is a claim that Britain’s “business leaders” rely on Heathrow as the gateway to international trade, and would welcome the airport’s expansion.

Heathrow used the British Chambers of Commerce Annual Conference on Tuesday to release a report by the airport supporting their claims that an expanded Heathrow would boost trade by improving connectivity between UK companies and emerging markets.

This is, of course, similar to the contention of Birmingham Airport which sees itself as an obvious candidate to benefit from an ‘overcrowded’ Heathrow.

If Heathrow doesn’t get its third runway, Birmingham is ready to step in with an extended runway and develop as a hub airport for businesses. Indeed, Birmingham’s chances to “become Heathrow’s third runway” stands to benefit from HS2, which will cut journey times between Heathrow and Birmingham Airport.

The report includes a glowing reference to the attractions of Heathrow from a Birmingham firm, Bureau Veritas UK, described as a global leader in testing, inspection and verification services operating in 22 countries with a turnover of about £3.5 billion.

Bureau Veritas chief executive is quoted in the report: “An expanded Heathrow would therefore create significant benefits for Bureau Veritas given the improved connectivity to its UK and Ireland office network international offices and global client base.”

All of this proved too much for Birmingham Airport Public Affairs Director John Morris, who issued a forthright press release condemning Heathrow’s tactics.

Morris noted that the report – Heathrow, a National Asset – was launched on April Fools Day.

A selection of heavyweight West Midlands business representatives were lined up to have their say about Heathrow, including Jerry Blackett, chief executive of Birmingham Chamber of Commerce.

Mr Blackett said: “Heathrow has completely misfired with this report and fundamentally misunderstood the needs of businesses in the Midlands.

“Our members tell us time and again that they are fed up of traipsing down to Heathrow and that they need more point-to-point flights in order to be able to expand their customer base and grow the business. If you give businesses a choice, they will want to use their local airport.

“This is a cheap tactical play by Heathrow to garner a regional mandate and they appear to have commandeered a British Chambers conference to release the report as a means of justifying it.

“A third runway at Heathrow is not what Midlands’ businesses want and it is not in the interests of the UK as a whole”.

Paul Kehoe, Birmingham Airport chief executive, who invented the ‘Birmingham can be Heathrow’s third runway’ strategy, said: “Midland business people tell us that they want to be able to fly direct from their own part of the UK.

“Heathrow seems to be trying to play this year’s greatest April Fool.

“They can continue to make their claims, whilst we will continue to deliver for our manufacturing heartland and beyond.  Our region’s businesses are best served by their own global gateway.”

The report was published just a day after it was revealed that Birmingham Airport had signed up to be a patron of the Black Country Chamber of Commerce.

Peter Mathews, chairman and managing director of Black Country Metals said: “I am speaking on behalf of international businesses in the West Midlands when I say that we do not want to use a congested Heathrow.

“It is simply not true that only Heathrow can provide the international links we need. Only last month, Birmingham Airport announced it was launching direct flights to Beijing.

“I disagree with what Heathrow has put out today in the strongest terms. Their report shows that they clearly do not understand the needs of business outside of London. Channelling businesses from across the UK through Heathrow is not what we want.”

And to make sure the message is hammered home in no uncertain terms, Birmingham Airport has issued a fact-file on why Heathrow should not expand:

  • The bulk of UK passengers still travel by road, this brings forward no plans to ‘decongest’ Heathrow road systems.
  • Cost of reaching markets for rest of UK can be reduced by flying direct from ‘regions’
  • Heathrow’s third runway will be a boon for the low cost sector (which can take 50% of its capacity) but as most of the new spare capacity may be taken by low cost, a fourth runway would seem inevitable.
  • It is not the ‘Patriotic Duty’ of every UK subject to traipse to one corner of the UK to satisfy the business plans of airlines which refuse to serve the rest of the country.
  • The UK has a number of excellent hub connections – through Istanbul, Dubai, Schipol and others. In many cases businesspeople can reach these hubs from their home in less time, and with less cost, than the hassle of reaching Heathrow. This approach also encourages jobs in the aviation supply chain across the rest of the UK.
  • The need for a resilient network  considering the fog today led to almost 100 cancelled flights at Heathrow.

This post has been updated to correct the impression given by a previous version that the Heathrow report was authored or endorsed by the British Chambers of Commerce. We are happy to point out that BCC supports the development of additional capacity at all interested airports, subject only to their own commercial case for private-sector funding. 

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