The reactions to the outbreak Covid-19 have pushed Europe’s other big issues on to the back burner. To avoid disruption in the aviation sector, concrete Brexit details are needed. There would appear to be a lack of clarity in London too concerning the future approach.
Heathrow airport CEO John Holland-Kaye was pleased recently. The presentation of his hub’s annual figures on 25 February revealed a positive financial statement for the ninth successive year, with the gateway’s adjusted ebitda rising by 3.4% vis-à-vis 2018, to GBP 1.9 billion. In his address Holland-Kaye underlined the fact that the gateway’s expansion – that is the construction of a third runway, scheduled for 2022–2026 – is absolutely essential to fulfil the British prime minister’s vision of a ‘global Britain’.
But you shouldn’t speak of the devil! Two days later the mood in Heathrow turned very dark, as environmental activists won a court appeal against the runway plans, which the government of the day had declared to be one of its objectives in 2018. The reason the court gave was that the plans are incompatible with the goals of the UN’s Paris Agreement on climate change. The operator of London’s largest airport immediately appealed the decision.
It can’t count on the support of the current inhabitant of 10 Downing Street, however. During his tenure as mayor of London, Boris Johnson brought entirely different ideas into play – including the ‘Boris Island’ project.
Heathrow remained the busiest airport worldwide in 2019, with 475,000 commercial aircraft movements handled by its two runways. The main competitor Heathrow fears is Paris CDG. In terms of freight, LHR is Europe’s third-ranked hub, and should rather keep an eye on Amsterdam, Istanbul and Leipzig (see also page 10 of ITJ 11-12 / 2020).
The hub remains the UK’s uncontested No. 1, of course. Other gateways that have articulated cargo strategies bank on niches; East Midlands airport, for example, focuses on express activities. Some of these other hubs are also hoping for some positive side-effects arising from Brexit.
It’s not clear yet what form the UK’s departure from the EU will take – and nor what effects it will have. One factor that emerged in March is that the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is aiming to take responsibility again for the UK’s air space, currently held by the European Union’s Aviation Safety Agency (Easa).