British exports are best served by a network of airports, not a London hub, the chief executive of Birmngham Airport has said.

Paul Kehoe, in response to the report Great Airports For Great Cities, claimed Birmingham had the second largest business catchment area of any long-haul airport that specialised in manufacturing.

He warned that the report provided further evidence to show that expanding Heathrow is not a national aviation strategy because it failed to serve huge numbers of businesses outside of London, nor distribute economic growth across Britain.

The report, conducted by economic consultancy Capital Economics, looked at the economic value of the catchment areas of Britain’s long-haul airports.

            >MPs reject Birmingham Airport's hub ambitions

It showed that Birmingham had the largest number of businesses in its catchment, after Heathrow, with strong demand for flights to Asia and the Middle East. However these businesses are currently forced to travel from airports in the south to travel to their destinations.

Key findings revealed that over 500,000 are located within the Birmingham Airport catchment. This represents around one quarter of all Britain’s businesses.

These businesses employ 6.4 million workers and more than three million business trips were made from the Birmingham catchment in 2011 – second only to Heathrow.

It also showed that Birmingham has the largest share of manufacturing activity out of any long-haul airport catchment – particularly high-value manufacturing including transport, machinery, motor vehicles and aerospace.

The report also claimed that businesses in Birmingham’s catchment area exported more goods to Asia and the Middle East than any other UK terminal.

The report was commissioned by Birmingham Airport as part of a series of publications to help inform its response to the Airports Commission and was launched at a reception this week attended by key business people.

Mr Kehoe said: “This report shows that a surprisingly high proportion of the country’s potential demand for business air travel comes from Birmingham Airport’s catchment area.

“But rather than flying from their local airport, we have ended up with an illogical situation where these businesses have to slog down the M1 or M40 to get to Heathrow – leaving them with huge time and cost implications and adding to the congestion at our London airports.

“The evidence in this report shows that a lot of these businesses specialise in high-value manufacturing and for manufacturers international connectivity is fundamental to their ability to export their goods.

“It is clear that UK exports are best served by a network of airports, not a London hub, and if the Government is serious about boosting growth across the UK and about encouraging a renaissance in our manufacturing sector then we need a complete rethink of our aviation model.

“Instead of building one mega airport in the South East, which is inconvenient for anyone beyond the M25, we need a network of great British airports that serve our great cities. We need to start putting the passenger, and the not the industry, first in the debate.”

Mark Pragnell, author of the report from Capital Economics, said: “The realities of the changing global economic landscape are that British businesses will increasingly require connections to long-haul destinations to be successful. We all know that Asia, South America, the Middle East and, eventually, Africa will be key markets for British exporters.

"But these long-haul locations are also growing in importance in the supply chains of British manufacturers, as investors into British firms and British infrastructure, and as the source of new ideas, innovation research and development.

“Few airports are equipped to help businesses make these long-haul connections – and most are concentrated in the already congested London area. Birmingham Airport has a population of 35 million within two hours travel time of it, which is the largest market of any airport with long-haul capacity. It is also the most convenient long-haul airport for 15.5 million people.

“It is the best located airport to serve the long-haul needs of over 500,000 businesses employing 6.5 million people. A long-haul Birmingham Airport is the most convenient for not only the Midlands, but also much of Wales and the South West, taking pressure off over-crowded London airports.

“Used properly, Birmingham Airport can help balance out airport capacity – and support efforts to build a more balanced British economy beyond the South East”.

Further analysis produced for Birmingham Airport showed that the city’s hub was Britain’s most accessible airport and should be used to alleviate pressure on crowded London terminals.

The report into passenger proximity and the impact on jobs and growth boosts called for Government to support the development of a network of major British airports, rather than one major London hub when it eventually decides on the future of air travel in the UK.

The analysis, conducted by Steer Davies Gleave and Capital Economics, looked at the catchment areas of the UK’s long-haul airports and concluded that Birmingham currently serves the greatest number of passengers living and working within two hours travel by road and rail.

It also found that Birmingham had the biggest catchment area for passengers living within a 90-minute journey of the airport, covering almost 20 million people, marginally more than Heathrow. Last week a select committee of MPs recommended that the west London airport develops a third and fourth runway to ease pressure on its services.

This will be expanded to cover the greatest number of passengers within one hour’s travelling distance from the airport when the HS2 rail service is eventually introduced.

These findings support the argument put forward by the region’s business chiefs that passengers were being forced to use overcrowded airports in the London region and investment in regional facilities would improve choice for travellers.

The report was commissioned by Birmingham Airport to form part of its response to the Government’s Airport Commission call for evidence on how to make the best use of existing aviation capacity.

Paul Kehoe, airport chief executive, welcomed the results. He said: “The analysis we commissioned shows that Birmingham has a huge potential catchment today and will have the largest in the UK with HS2. This just highlights the extent to which our existing approach to aviation is imbalanced and is failing to serve the needs of passengers.

“The evidence shows that we have huge levels of demand for long-haul flights around the country – Birmingham Airport’s market for long-haul travel is second only to London – yet as an industry we insist on channelling people through the congested South East and making passengers and the environment pay the price.

“At Birmingham Airport, we have recognised this and have made the commitment to provide our customers with the opportunity to fly long-haul from their local airport. Our runway extension, allowing for flights across the world, will be fully operational next year.

“If the Airport Commission wants to ease unsustainable passenger demand pressure on over-full airports like Heathrow and reduce the need for expensive, environmentally-complex new developments like an Estuary Airport, then it needs to consider the benefits of making the most of our existing airports across the UK.

“A network of great long-haul airports for our great British cities would be a win for passengers and a win for policy-makers,” added Mr Kehoe.

> MPs reject Birmingham Airport's hub ambitions