Today the Government approved that a new third runway be built at London Heathrow. The first aircraft is not expected before 2025 and there will be challenges along the way. But what does this development herald for Plymouth? A brief potted history might help.
In 1998, BA Regional the airline serving Plymouth at that time, transferred the city’s four to five times daily London routes from Heathrow to Gatwick. Despite the Government’s suggestions that it would ringfence Heathrow slots for regional routes. Then, in 2011, Plymouth was squeezed out of Gatwick as capacity there became scarcer and the value of slots greater. At the end of 2011 Air South West was gone and Plymouth Airport had been closed.
In other words, frequent London hub connections drove scheduled services to Plymouth. We lost London, we lost our airport. And, in the wake of the loss of Heathrow links, some fourteen large employers left Plymouth.
So what would a new Heathrow runway mean for Plymouth? Well, first to say that FlyPlymouth has a plan to acquire and operate Plymouth airport as a business and general aviation airport to build up services from nothing and pave the way for the reintroduction of scheduled air services. We are not relying on Heathrow to be profitable and sustainable.
And yet, a new runway at Heathrow would potentially be transformative for Plymouth’s economic performance over the coming decades. Living and working in Plymouth will mean a lot more if we are connected into one of the world’s major aviation hubs with a 45 minute flight.
But can Plymouth expect a slice of the action? Well, today’s comments from the Prime Minister and Transport Secretary are encouraging. They are at pains to emphasise that a new runway at Heathrow is the best solution “for the whole of Britain”. The Prime Minister added: “By making sure we improve the links between regional airports and our capital city we can use airport expansion as an opportunity to bring the UK closer together.” Perhaps Plymouth will get to share in some of the benefits others have enjoyed with the Northern Powerhouse, HS2 and CrossRail programs.
It is not just Government that has been positive. Heathrow Airport and its independent research project, the National Connectivity Task Force both mentioned Plymouth in particular as an example of the airports that should benefit from a new runway at Heathrow. This view was echoed by the Davies Commission and the British Infrastructure Group.
So, today, FlyPlymouth begins a ten year lobbying project to ensure that these promises are delivered on and Plymouth does indeed get a share of new runway capacity at Heathrow. (We seem to be good at long term persistence). Of course this will only be meaningful if in the meantime, we hold on to our airport as Plymouth City Council clearly intends to do.
The rationale for the safeguarding and reopening of Plymouth Airport just got a whole lot stronger.