It also ran: a lousy year for the UK’s main airport


Boris Johnson may be short on friends, but the embattled prime minister can count on the support of the transport secretary.

Grant Shapps did Tuesday’s media round (if he’s lost his place at Partygate, his mission was to defend the prime minister’s birthday celebration in the cabinet room and answer questions about Mr Johnson’s “wallpaper consultant”, Lulu Lytle).

But the transport secretary also found time to announce in a government press release: “We made the right calls at the right time and thanks to our vaccine and booster launch it is paying off, allowing us to safely eliminate almost all Covid-19 travel restrictions for vaccinated travelers.

“We already have one of the most open economies in Europe with the fewest restrictions, and because of these changes, we now have a travel industry to match.”

This may come as a surprise to the UK aviation industry, which has suffered much more than that of any other major European nation.

At 6:59am, just before Shapps joined Kay Burley on Sky News, the European office of Airports Council International sent a summary of the sad story of 2021 from an aviation perspective.

Aviation movements to and from the UK amounted to just 22 per cent of 2019 flight operations. Spain and Bulgaria achieved double the British share, at 44 per cent, while Romania reached 46 per cent. , Portugal managed 48 percent and Greece beat everyone else except Russia with 53 percent.

Russia, with few travel restrictions, is a special case, holding 76 percent of 2019 traffic.

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The UK fared no better at the individual airport level. For decades, London Heathrow topped the European league table, followed by Paris CDG, Amsterdam and Frankfurt.

The French and Dutch capitals remained in the top four last year, but each dropped one place. Istanbul and Moscow Domodedovo are now dominant (with the Russian capital’s second airport, Sheremetyevo, ranking fifth).

Given the demolition of aviation by government decisions to create Europe’s most complex and onerous travel restrictions, I predict that Heathrow will never again be ranked number one in Europe.

Airports are gravitational: the more flights and passengers they have, the more they attract. An airline is more likely to consider new flights to an airport that has tens of thousands of potential connecting passengers on dozens of routes, meaning Istanbul looks more attractive than Heathrow.

Unlike the other hubs, Istanbul is also, like London, a giant city with plenty of appeal on its own. In October, the UK government slashed the number of potential visitors to Britain by banning arrivals from the European Union with just an ID card (a perfectly secure document that is accepted by dozens of other nations).

This dogmatic decision gives Istanbul, as well as Continental’s traditional hubs, an advantage that they will enjoy exploiting.

That matters? For UK travellers, definitely. We used to enjoy the longest horizons and the lowest rates in Europe.

It will take more than a boost from the Prime Minister’s staunch friend to turn around the fortunes of UK aviation.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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