Failure to expand airports will stifle budget airlines while BA's future depends on Heathrow's third runway, conference told

Future growth of European low-cost carriers (LCC), existing and new entrant, depends on airports having spare capacity, but this is set to reduce dramatically if such airlines expand at the predicted rate.

Bmibaby managing director Tony Davis says European LCCs will continue to grow while there is capacity but this will reduce with the sector's continuing expansion.

EasyJet chief executive Ray Webster agrees, adding that all growth since 1993 in UK-European traffic has occurred outside the UK's largest hub, London Heathrow airport.

Speaking at Airport Council International-Europe's annual assembly in London, on 11-13 June, Webster disagreed with the general verdict that the airline system needs some - if fewer - network hubs for passenger interchange onto intercontinental routes. He forecast the death of hub airports at the hands of future specialist long-haul point-to-point airlines, which could be successful "providing airports work with them". He says airport and handling charges are 35% of an LCC's costs and could be halved.

Dr Wilhelm Bender, chief executive of German airport operator Fraport, says future hubs will be a part of coherent airport systems. Fraport's hub airport is Frankfurt Main, but it also owns dedicated low-cost airport Frankfurt Hahn. He says a proper hub must have sufficient capacity and flexibility, be able to handle the Airbus A380 and be part of an airport system serving a conurbation. Hubs, says Bender, provide for "advanced" travel, serving airlines by offering interlining and in-flight catering, and using computer reservations systems and seat allocation.

An airport serving point-to-point LCCs has no airbridges, simple check-in procedures and no or very simple in-flight service.

Meanwhile, British Airways chief executive Rod Eddington has appealed to the UK government to allow a third runway at Heathrow. He says Heathrow's lack of expansion capacity means "BA's hands are tied", and that there are more services from UK provincial airports to Amsterdam Schiphol than to Heathrow. Eddington adds: "No other city in the world has successfully operated a two major hub system - not even New York." UK government decisions are due this year about additional runway capacity in the southeast of England.

Source: Flight International