Birmingham Airport’s hopes of becoming a hub airport have been dealt a blow by a Commons inquiry which said the idea wouldn’t work.
The Commons Transport Committee ruled out proposals put to them by Chief Executive Paul Kehoe for a second hub airport in the UK.
The MPs backed proposals to expand Heathrow Airport, in a report following an inquiry which heard evidence from Mr Kehoe, airline manages and others including London Mayor Boris Johnson.
They backed a number of Birmingham Airport’s demands, including calls for more government support for airports outside the south east and the possibility of an “open skies” policy, which would allow the airport to sign agreements with overseas airlines without requiring government approval.
But the committee explicitly rejected Birmingham’s proposals to create a second hub airport or a series of hub airports across the country.
It follows Mr Kehoe’s appearance before the committee in December, when he told MPs: “If we look at some other economies around the world, they have gone for a multi-hub system.”
He added: “In a modern economy, it is risky to put all your eggs in one basket. What we should be doing is encouraging other airlines to come in at some future point and take the role at other hubs across the UK – perhaps two or three other hubs, perhaps four, one for each part of the UK: south-east, midlands, north and Scotland, where they can be almost a secondary hub but nevertheless have some form of hubbing operation.”
But Transport Committee said in its report: “A two-runway hub airport is not adequate for the needs of the UK. We have considered the options put to us and on the basis of the evidence we have heard we recommend that the Government allow Heathrow to expand.”
The MPs added: “Another solution to the hub capacity problem would be to connect two existing airports by high-speed rail to form a “split-hub”. This would potentially eliminate the need for new runways at existing airports.”
They said: “We were informed by a number of organisations that such an approach would be highly uncompetitive, particularly in comparison to the passengers experience at competitor hubs in Europe and the Middle East, where there are rapid transfer times (significantly less than an hour) from plane to plane.
“We conclude that a split hub would not be a viable solution to the hub capacity problem and we reject these proposals.”
And they warned that the planned high speed rail line, which will cut journey times from London to Birmingham, would not make it possible to transfer passengers from London to the Midlands.
“We also note that some non-hub airports may have a role to play in providing flights to emerging markets and that the HS2 rail project offers the potential for other airports such as Birmingham and East Midlands to attract more passengers from London and the South East.
For example, with HS2 the rail journey time from central London to Birmingham airport will be less than 40 minutes, not dissimilar from journey times to the main London airports.
“This, however, is not a substitute for increased hub capacity.”
But the inquiry did urge the Government to do more to support airports outside the South East – even if some airlines were only interested in flying to London.
“It was acknowledged that through improved marketing, awareness could be raised about airports outside the south east – such as Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, East Midlands or Bristol Airports – which might make them more attractive to foreign visitors.
“Birmingham Airport recently suggested that the Government should actively support and market airports outside of the south east by designating them as ‘National Airport’, in order to assist them in attracting new routes... we recommend that the Government take a more active role in promoting airports outside the south east.”
An airport spokesman pointed out that the report’s call for expansion of Heathrow had been rejected by the Greater London Assembly.
The spokesman said: “We welcome many of the Transport Committee’s findings but the focus on expanding Heathrow is an example of old thinking leading to old answers which won’t work for the UK in the future.”