Flybe has suspended plans to take up available slots at London Heathrow Airport that could have enabled it to operate a number of selected routes to and from Scotland from the end of October.
This to provide relevant stakeholders additional time to explore ways to reduce to an affordable level the proposed costs to regional airline operators striving to provide broader access for domestic UK travellers to the Britain’s largest international hub airport.
“A decision regarding Flybe’s start of commercial operations to and from Heathrow is now wholly dependent on the relevant stakeholders, led primarily by Heathrow. A regional airline with smaller aircraft cannot connect the UK regions viably to Heathrow without appropriate concessions and support,” says Flybe CEO, Saad Hammad.
“It is clear that the allocation of Heathrow slots to domestic regional operators is futile if the airport’s rigid charging regime cannot be adjusted to accommodate smaller aircraft. It is unreasonable to expect operators of 78-118 seat aircraft to absorb the same charges levied on carriers operating those with 850 or more!
“We have been encouraged by the constructive spirit with which Heathrow in particular was making towards reaching a mutually agreeable outcome. We welcome the £10 per passenger discount they have, for example, proposed for domestic airlines as of January 2017. Sadly, however, this is not enough. Flybe is keen to give Heathrow and other stakeholders time for a rethink.”
In the interim, and running alongside the ongoing debate on Heathrow or Gatwick expansion plans, Flybe has vowed to continue lobbying the UK government for RAF Northolt to be utilised for scheduled commercial flights. This readily available option could immediately link underserved regional airports to London, either for point to point travel or for onward connections to Heathrow from RAF Northolt that is only a short drive away.
Hammad explains: “At present, Northolt is a military airfield, although the predominant use is by the privileged few flying in and out on executive business jets. Flybe has proposed several times to the UK Government that it open up Northolt to scheduled services. This would give the UK regions some of the immediate connectivity benefits of a new south east runway with none of the environmental disadvantages. We estimate it would contribute an additional £7m annually to the government in landing fees and air passenger duty. Our proposal is independent of any future plan for new airport capacity in the South East that will take at least a decade to come to fruition if it is ever approved at all. Northolt is available right here, right now.
The only people who would lose out are those who fly in noisy private executive jets to and from Northolt – this benefits only a wealthy few. We have proposed opening up Northolt to the people using our much quieter aircraft. Sadly, however, the Ministry of Defence has rebuffed our proposal to-date. We will continue to push the case for RAF Northolt. The country needs air transport policies that benefit the many rather than the privileged few.”