That Heathrow Expansion Will Damage Regional Airports Shows Heathrow Should Expand

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It’s a fairly basic observation concerning market economics that if the expansion of one producer lowers the output of other such producers then it’s near certainly a good thing, that expansion. For our producer expands, delivering more of what the consumers want, leaving those people producing the lesser favoured output to mourn their losses. To, obviously, the great joy of consumers who are getting more of that they so obviously, by their actions, desire.

Airports are reasonable substitutes for each other. Obviously, not perfect ones. Southend Airport is less useful to someone west of London than Heathrow, Gatwick or Luton are, equally more so to someone in Essex. So, if one airport expands and then more people decide to use that airport, others less, then we’ve a fair assumption there that people prefer to use the expanded airport rather than those less worthy substitutes.

Which is interesting. Because that would make it a very strange argument against Heathrow expansion that because more people will use it we shouldn’t expand it. The opposite logic should apply, that if regional airports will lose trade to an expanded Heathrow then that’s a great argument to expand Heathrow. Which isn’t the way it is being argued:

According to the government’s own figures, the impact of Heathrow expansion on UK regional airports will be alarmingly negative. By as early as 2030, a third runway at Heathrow will mean 20,258 fewer direct international flights at Manchester each year; 17,100 fewer at Birmingham; 4,449 fewer at Leeds Bradford; 2,700 fewer in Scotland; 1,400 fewer at Doncaster Sheffield airport; and that as many as 17 million of the 43 million extra passengers projected to pass through Heathrow’s lucrative shopping malls will have been be drawn from growth at regional airports (Caroline Lucas interview, 16 June).

And there’s no letup in the projections: by 2050 there will be 162,000 fewer direct international flights each year at regional airports, if parliament permits Heathrow to build a third runway.

All of this can only be true if consumers prefer to travel through an expanded Heathrow rather than those regional airports. Thus Heathrow should be expanded because that’s what consumers prefer.

The letter comes from:

Paul McGuinness
Chair, No 3rd Runway Coalition

It would appear that they need to brush up upon basic logic, no?

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Rhoda Klapp
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Rhoda Klapp

Blimey. VC10, 707s and an Argosy in the bg. I bet you could just show your ticket and get on, too.

If any airport regional or otherwise really wanted my business wouldn’t they make it attractive? Easy to park, quick through security, that sort of thing? Do they? Do they ****.

Spike
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Spike

Manchester NH and TF Green in Rhode Island actively tout themselves as alternatives to Logan Airport in Boston, the former recently renaming itself “Manchester-Boston.” Its acres of parking were inexpensive enough to leave a car for weeks, until it got popular; in the very old days, parking there, and at one-airline Pease on the Seacoast, was free. Tiny Precision Airways would give away a round trip on its fifteen-minute flight from Nashua to Boston (and transfer your bags) if you booked the rest of your trip through it. But “quick through security” is no longer negotiable, because when the federal… Read more »

Spike
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Spike

The obvious advantage of Heathrow is its size itself; the benefit is that your journey’s source and destination are likely to connect via Heathrow, versus acquiring the information to lug yourself and your bags to Gatwick in time to make your connecting flight. Dittos Microsoft Windows, as a large majority of users benefit from everyone using the same system (until we get good at making transfers between systems easy and transparent). So Heathrow is not necessarily getting bigger because its product is better, but perhaps partly just because it is already big.

Quentin Vole
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Quentin Vole

A Shanghai-style Maglev could link Heathrow and Gatwick in about 10 minutes, less time than is needed to change terminals. Rename Gatwick to ‘Heathrow South’ and the job’s a good ‘un. We could build this plus a full-size second runway at Gatwick for a lot less than the cost of a third mini-runway at Heathrow.

jgh
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jgh

If any airport wants my business they have to make sure they’re within, say, 60 minutes of my front door. So, that gives me Leeds, Manchester, Doncaster and Loughborough.

Southerner
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This is quite amusing. Who asked the consumers what they’d prefer? Nobody. The survey asked the airlines what they’d prefer. Money saving! Screw the consumers who have to travel further at greater cost to get on a flight and all the rest of the onerous stuff. Yes, airlines are consumers of airports, but the suggestion that what airlines and passengers want is identical is an economic howler of some note.

Nautical Nick
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Nautical Nick

The point, surely, is whether the total number of flights (or more accurately passengers) counting all UK airports increases. And when it comes to air travel, it seems the crucial factor is whether or not the airport is a hub. There is no comparison between a third runway at Heathrow and a second at, say, Luton. ISTM that taking both those factors, then Heathrow has to be the answer. As an aside, though Boris Island may be a great (if expensive) project, its advantage (that it has room) is also its biggest drawback- that it’s a long way away from… Read more »