Bosses at Birmingham Airport have warned that plans to fly to growth economies like India and China could be hindered by proposals to resume passenger flights at Coventry Airport.
Paul Kehoe, the chief executive of Birmingham Airport, said a new competitor in the Midland marketplace stands to “destroy” rather than help the sector.
With progress being made on the £65 million runway extension at Birmingham, the possibility of flights to China, India and the west coast of America will become reality in 2014 – but Mr Kehoe said competing with Coventry at the short-haul end of the market could put that under threat by hitting profitability.
Birmingham Airport made an after-tax profit of £5.28 million last year, representing an eight-fold rise, but only after cost-cutting that saw its workforce reduce by 75 as the marketplace remains challenged.
Though unavailable for comment when approached by the Birmingham Post, new Coventry Airport owner Sir Peter Rigby told sister newspaper the Coventry Telegraph in 2010 that he hoped to begin passenger flights this year.
Mr Kehoe said: “To have another airport competing with us eight miles away doesn’t help the market. It destroys it.
“In Northern Ireland, where they have got airports 10 miles apart, the beneficiary is not either of those airports. It is in another city – Dublin. They have the same air links that they always had.
“We are competing against Heathrow. It would be great if there was lots of traffic coming in and Coventry could take that but there isn’t and if we lost 500,000 passengers it would take a significant part of our profit and we need profit to invest back into the airport.
“We need long haul routes to growth markets like China and India but in order to do that we have got to do our bread and butter stuff – the flybes and Monarchs – to create economic benefits for the region.”
The 400-metre runway extension project is expected to be completed by the end of 2014, after £15.7 million of Regional Growth Fund money was found to put towards diverting the A45, which would be a prerequisite.
The schemes promise to directly create 6,193 jobs in the region, with a further 34,669 more posts in associated supply chains.
Meanwhile, Coventry Airport has suffered a turbulent two years, after previous owner West Midlands Airport collapsed in December 2009 and was later wound up in the High Court amid spiralling debt.
Patriot Aerospace – headed by millionaire Sir Peter Rigby – took over as the new owner in April 2010.
Sir Peter revealed last year that Paris, Prague, Poland and Portugal were high on his list of potential destinations from the redeveloped airport.
The plans also involved an enterprise zone around the airport – with plans to create as many as 14,000 jobs – but the Post revealed last week this had been scuppered after the Government turned down the bid.
However, organisers in Coventry have said the plans will still go ahead.
Mr Kehoe said smaller airports have become more difficult to compete with for medium-sized operators as the Airport Charges Directive has made it more onerous for airports the size of Birmingham – which caters to between five million and 15 million passengers a year – than those with fewer than five million.
He added: “We can’t be as flexible with charging as other airports can be. For example, Easyjet has gone into Southend for what we think is a very favourable deal for Easyjet.
“Coventry would fall into the category of Southend. Theoretically it could do all sorts of things with its charging.”
He added: “If Coventry sticks to its strategy and makes a fist out of it, great, but if it breaks up the market I don’t think anyone will win.
"The one winner could be East Midlands Airport which will be able to sit there and let us fight it out and benefit from it.”
Jerry Blackett, chief executive of Birmingham Chamber of Commerce Group, said it was important the airport played a part in growth plans for the West Midlands.
He said: “The chamber supports free markets and recognises that businesses are well used to slugging it out in a highly competitive arena. In most cases the market will dictate the outcome.
“However, in this case it is important that we ensure that Birmingham remains and develops into a truly international airport with the sort of global reach that the runway extension will bring.
"If Coventry tries to adopt a policy which competes closely with Birmingham, we could be in danger of establishing two very local airports, which will weaken the entire region’s world-wide appeal and standing.
“Birmingham and Coventry airports are close, both in terms of proximity and airspace, and we would urge Coventry to provide complementary services to those offered at Birmingham Airport.”
Coventry Airport declined to comment.