Heathrow, Britain’s biggest airport, is operating at full capacity and is vying with Gatwick for backing for expansion from a commission due to report this summer.
While London’s two biggest airports await the outcome of the three-year commission, Manchester Airport has been expanding its long-haul routes, giving passengers an alternative to travelling south to Heathrow.
“Over the next 10 years, the airport will continue to develop as a global gateway for the UK,” said Manchester Airport Group chief executive Charlie Cornish yesterday.
Even with government backing, building of a new runway in the south-east of England would not be complete until the middle of the next decade, giving other airports in Britain and Ireland a chance to add new flights as demand for air travel grows.
On the face of it, any expansion in Manchester to boost its transatlantic routes will pose a challenge to Dublin and Cork airports in future years.
Manchester’s 21.9m passengers give it a slight lead over Dublin, which handled 21.7m passengers last year.
Dublin Airport claims it has more transatlantic flights than Manchester. Its summer schedule will make it the sixth-largest airport in Europe by weekly departures to the US, behind Paris’ Charles de Gaulle, Frankfurt, Amsterdam Schiphol, and Madrid, the airport says.
Securing slots from Ireland into Heathrow was a major reason cited by the Government for supporting Willie Walsh’s IAG bid for Aer Lingus last week. British Airways, which is owned by IAG, is based at Heathrow.
Manchester Airport grew passenger numbers by 6% in its last financial year and expects to add another 5% in the 2015-16 period. The £1bn investment programme would ensure it can handle more flights and passengers.
The airport expansion also fits in with efforts by British chancellor George Osborne to improve road and rail links between northern English cities such as Manchester, Liverpool, and Leeds to create a conurbation with the scale and resources to compete with London.
“All the research we’ve done is that passengers are looking to ideally travel from their local airport,” Mr Cornish said, adding that the airport was bringing in more long-haul routes, including to the US and Middle East, where airlines such as Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar Airways had added capacity in recent years.
The investment, funded by a combination of improving cashflow and some additional debt, will involve expanding the main terminal building and improving another terminal.
Manchester and Stansted, Britain’s fourth-largest airport, are part of Manchester Airport Group which is owned by an Australian pension fund and a group of regional councils around Manchester.