Tourism bosses and business leaders have welcomed the news that Birmingham Airport’s long-awaited runway extension looks certain to get the final go-ahead within weeks.Related content
All agreed that the development, which will enable the airport to offer non-stop flights to cities in China and India and to the west coast of America for the first time, is vital for Birmingham’s infrastructure and credibility in an increasingly competitive environment.
Jerry Blackett, chief executive of Birmingham and Solihull Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCI), said the airport runway had always been top of the agenda in the drive to make Birmingham a global player.
“The airport runway remains the most symbolic piece of unfinished infrastructure in the region,” he said. “It is the biggest hindrance to the region if we are to be seen as a credible international competitor.
“The fact that you can’t fly to the fastest growing economies of the world from Birmingham has become a daily issue for businesses.
“As well as my position at the Chamber I am also chair of the West Midlands Business Transport Group and the airport is always top of the agenda for members.”
Birmingham Airport said the plans, although slightly scaled back, will deliver 95 per cent of the original capacity, triggering millions of pounds in economic benefit for the West Midlands from faster flights to the rest of the world.
The new runway will enable passenger capacity to significantly increase from its current figure of 18 million and grow the number of airlines. Currently 50 operate from Birmingham to 143 destinations and more than 7,000 jobs are supported by the airport.
Paul Thandi, chief executive of the NEC Group, said the airport extension would give Birmingham “authentic international status” but added that more needed to be done across the city to entice visitors. He said it would bring the city in line with competitors, however, other improvements were needed for it to excel.
“We want people to be able to fly direct from the east coast of China, India and America and in terms of authenticity as an international status, this gets a great big tick, “ he said. “In terms of our business we don’t want visitors to fly in and have to get a train here.
"The one thing we have to understand is that it is not a silver bullet out of the difficulties we face over the coming years, it needs to be part of a programme – people need a reason to get off the plane here.
“We have to maintain momentum and ensure we are an international city in every sense. We have to move from low value to high value added technology centres.
“We have the highest concentration of financial services outside of London. We have Deutsche Bank and we are getting others. We have a great retail offer but it is also key that we get the infrastructure.
"We have to continue to evolve. This will not put us ahead, it will get us to a level playing field.”
If the NEC gets the go-ahead for a leisure and entertainment complex it could be built within a similar time frame to the runway extension.
Mr Thandi added: “There are so many major infrastructure projects, the airport, New Street Station, high speed two, our leisure and entertainment complex, we have to make sure we continue to go forward.”
Neil Rami, chief executive of Marketing Birmingham added: “The runway extension is a strategically important infrastructure project for the city and the wider region.
“It will allow us to attract new airlines and significant inward investment, as well as further overseas tourism to the city. It would be a very real step forward for us should the funding package be secured, ensuring the extension is in place by 2014.”