The Elite Ayrshire Business Circle

The Elite Ayrshire Business Circle

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Ayrshire leaders welcome possibility of new direct flights between Prestwick Airport and London

By: Murdoch MacDonald

The Elite Ayrshire Business Circle, Glasgow Prestwick Airport and leading local politicians have all pledged support for a call by a leading UK regional airline to open up a Battle of Britain airport near London to domestic commercial routes.

If implemented, this proposal raises the possibility of direct flights between Prestwick and London, which have not been available since Ryanair abandoned the Prestwick and Stansted route in 2011.

Flybe, Europe’s largest regional airline, this week called on the Government to review the Ministry of Defence’s refusal to give consideration to opening up RAF Northolt to a limited number of new Flybe domestic routes, linking underserved regions to London.

Last week the Government’s Spending Review did not include Flybe’s proposal to operate twice-daily return services to an initial five UK regional destinations including Prestwick from Northolt. This was despite the opportunity this afforded to provide improved regional connectivity to London, regional access to Heathrow Airport and much needed additional contribution to Government finances.

The proposal, which is independent of any decision on the Airports Commission’s recommendations on airport capacity in the South East, would bring the advantages of additional runway capacity to serve UK passengers in the immediate term and without requiring any taxpayer funding.

Flybe also says that the lack of proper consideration for this proposal also means that the Ministry of Defence’s decision is walking away from substantial benefits:

Flybe routes out of Northolt would generate an estimated £3m in income to the Royal Air Force and a further £4m in Air Passenger Duty revenue to the Treasury. 

This proposal would benefit 300,000 passengers a year from all over the UK, giving them fast access to and from Central London and Heathrow, from regional airports not currently served by either Heathrow or Gatwick. Flybe would look to provide a fast bus link to Heathrow for connecting passengers.

Local Northolt residents would benefit as Flybe would use only its turboprop aircraft, which are quieter than the private jets that today mostly use Northolt. Flybe proposes that its flights would replace an equivalent number of existing private jet movements, so there would be no increase in the number of flights at Northolt. As Flybe’s Q400’s are quieter, total noise would reduce for local residents.

This proposal would immediately give many of the domestic benefits of additional runway capacity in west London, at no cost to the Exchequer, pending any opening of a third runway at Heathrow.

Flybe chief executive Saad Hammad (pictured above) said: “Northolt has for too long been the preserve of the elite with their private jets. The Government is in danger of turning its back on an opportunity that would benefit hundreds of thousands of people in giving immediate regional air connections to London and beyond through Heathrow’s long-haul network. 

“This proposal would raise £7m additional revenue per year for the government at a time when it is making painful fiscal decisions. The local residents of Northolt are also being denied an opportunity to reduce noise. Opening-up Northolt would provide many of the domestic benefits of additional runway capacity now without any additional noise impact.” 

RAF Northolt is currently used by private executive jets, VIP’s and RAF transport. Two-thirds of aircraft movements at Northolt are private commercial and less than 30% by RAF aircraft. The National Connectivity Taskforce described Northolt as a “grossly under-utilised national asset”. It is 15 miles from the centre of London and only 10 miles from Heathrow Airport. South Ruislip station (Central Line underground and Chiltern Railways) is easily accessible either on foot or by a short shuttle bus from Northolt airfield, with frequent fast services into London. The access road (A4180) has over 15,000 vehicles per day. Flybe’s services would add up to 250 vehicles per day, absorbable without the need for any additional road improvement. Flybe would plan to investigate, with Heathrow airport, a direct bus shuttle link between the two airports for connecting passengers.

Flybe is Europe’s largest regional airline, operating at 34 UK airports and carrying more than half of all UK domestic passengers. Routes that Flybe would like to investigate out of Northolt include Prestwick, Inverness, Liverpool, Teesside, Doncaster and Londonderry.

Commenting on Flybe’s proposal today, Glasgow Prestwick Airport chief executive Richard Jenner (pictured above) said: “This is an interesting proposal which would have significant and welcome implications for Glasgow Prestwick Airport.   The opening up of RAF Northolt would add new routes and improve connectivity between Scotland and the south east of England, providing easy access to the centre of London and to Heathrow for connecting flights.”

John Scott MSP for Ayr (pictured above) commented: “The proposal by Flybe is an innovative one, and I would clearly welcome any plans that would establish a direct link between Prestwick and London.  I will be taking the matter up with the Minister for Transport to see what action can be taken to promote this idea.  Ultimately, we want to see direct links re-established between Prestwick and one of London’s main hub airports, but in the meantime the kind of solution being proposed by Flybe could be valuable in the short term.”

Councillor Bill McIntosh, Leader of South Ayrshire Council (pictured above) added: “We welcome the potential opportunity for any such London area flights from Prestwick.  We await developments with interest.”

Elite Ayrshire Business Circle executive chairman and Frazer Coogans Commercial Solicitors managing partner Norman Geddes (pictured above) concluded: “This exciting proposal should be given urgent consideration by the UK Government.

“The re-establishment of direct flights between Prestwick and London would provide a significant boost to the Ayrshire economy, and help to promote the development of Glasgow Prestwick Airport.”

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