Heathrow Airport this week fought back against suggestions that Britain does not need a major hub airport at which passengers and freight change flights.
The airport operator commissioned American air transport consultant JLS Consulting to research the viability of proposals by Gatwick Airport, among others, which call for building new runways on multiple sites.
Gatwick favours what it describes as a “constellation” of increased capacity airports surrounding London.
Its proposal involves building new runways at Gatwick and Stansted, with Gatwick’s new runway built first. This would result in London having three major airports, each with two runways.
Gatwick has commissioned architect Terry Farrell to promote the constellation idea. Speaking last month, Farrell said the constellation idea was more pragmatic.
He said that while “not ideal”, the approach was most appropriate and one that many other major global cities take. He cited New York, which has three major airports and which, alongside London, is the only city that handles over 100M passengers a year.
“London is a constellation at the moment,” said Farrell. “Looking at it logistically it’s what gives you greater flexibility in the long term.”
But JLS Consulting’s findings, published this week, conclude “emphatically that there are no successful versions of this model”.
The report says that numerous cities around the world have multiple airports but use them in different ways, usually with one acting as a hub.
New York, it argues, has one hub airport, Newark, while JFK and La Guardia operate as point to point airports.
The JLS report says that Tokyo attempted to split its hub airport into two and its connectivity and economy have suffered as a result; Paris has one hub (Charles de Gaulle) with Orly operating as a point to point airport; Moscow has no hub and consequently poor international connectivity, it states.
“This research shows that no world cities have successfully split demand across multiple hub airports,” said Heathrow chief executive Colin Matthews.
“However convenient it would be to believe that London could be the first, we cannot bet the UK’s economic prosperity on wishful thinking.
“The UK can only benefit from improved long haul connections by building a bigger hub airport.”
Farrell said that Heathrow’s vision was unrealistic. Smaller cities, such as Amsterdam, find it easier to have a mega-hub airports because they have the space to develop them, he said.
He added that they also work because they are mostly used by people transferring between flights.
Transport for London managing director of planning Michèle Dix said a hub airport was important.
“If we don’t compete as a hub, we will lose out,” she said. “We’re already losing out to Schiphol [in Amsterdam].” She said that already Schiphol had 27 connections to UK cities.
Dix said it was still open for debate where the main hub should be - either Heathrow or a new location - but she argued that a dispersed arrangement would fail to achieve global connectivity.