THE ROLE OF REGIONAL AIRPORTS

Graham Greaves, former Chief Executive of Cardiff International Airport, on 11 December 2001

Regional airports cater for the air traffic demands of regions outside the South East of England, where Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton and Stansted dominate as `Gateway' airports. Aviation policy was the subject of Government studies in 1978, 1985 and, for Terminal 5 (T5) at Heathrow, 2001. Another review is to take place in 2002 setting the policy for the next 30 years.

Regional airports affect regional prosperity. It has been estimated that about 4000 jobs result, directly and indirectly, for each million passengers p.a.(mppa) through the airport, particularly as scheduled flights increase. The T5 inquiry forecast that by 2016 there would be 170-190 million passengers p.a. in the South East alone, but provided for only 160 mppa in the four `Gateway'airports, when T5 was built in 2007. This provides an opportunity for regional airports to cope with the 30 mppa surplus as well as the increase until 2007.

The main problem is access both of aircraft and of passengers to and from the airport. European `Gateway' airports are already at full capacity for aircraft movements in 16 out of 24 cases. Regional airports are under-used and 20% of the passengers arriving in the South East are destined for outside that area and should fly direct to regional airports. The catchment area for an airport is 90 minute drive time, which allows Heathrow to attract passengers who ought to be using Bristol, Exeter, Birmingham or Cardiff.

To attract these passengers, the regional airports need to develop City Pair Business links, especially to Europe. The more destinations an airport serves the more passengers it handles.

This is difficult to German `gateway' airports like Frankfurt, Munich and Dusseldorf because of German regulations so near-by German regional airports are being used. This is now happening with the low cost airlines Ryanair, Go and Easyjet. Business travellers require: Frequency, every working day; Arrival at destination before 10.30 local time and return Departures after 1700 local time; Non-Stop flights or one-stop without transfer from
the aircraft. Flights to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam provide connections to international flights which compete with Heathrow/Gatwick.

The other people regional airports want to attract are the young and the retired: they are flexible regarding time, have money to spend and like unusual destinations.

The integration of transport so much discussed for rail-bus connections needs to be extended to air travel with a total UK transport time-table, e.g. for a journey by bus/rail to the departure airport and from the arrival airport to the town centre. With devolved government, journeys between Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast will become more frequent.

Problems are foreseen with the giant aircraft (A380, 600 seat, double-deck) being introduced. The wingspan is 250 ft, 16% more than a 747 `Jumbo'. How do you handle unloading, emergencies, delays and baggage for several of these giants in quick succession?

Discussion

The demand for air transport is growing, is there any attempt by the Government to suppress demand as they are trying to do for road traffic? No, the low-cost airlines are demonstrating how to meet demand.

Is there runway capacity at regional airports for the potential increase in traffic? Capacity depends on the length, altitude and ease of turn-off for each runway. It would be possible to handle 20-30 aircraft movements per hour.

The main growth between regional airports appears to be to Brussels.

Taxing aviation fuel would probably not affect the number of aircraft movements; data from Lufthansa on the effect on ozone in the atmosphere suggests the environmental effect is not as large as feared.

Landing slots are a big problem; they should be sold, not allocated.

Donald Lovell