Heathrow will face a battle for survival against Europe’s four other hub airports as countries such as Turkey and Dubai build up their aviation capacity, according to its chief executive.
Colin Matthews, head of Heathrow, warned that airports in Dubai and Istanbul have huge projects to increase capacity while Britain procrastinates over where to build extra runways.
These emerging hub airports will “over time” divert traffic from Europe, intensifying competition between Heathrow, Amsterdam Schiphol, Frankfurt, Paris Charles de Gaulle and Madrid, he said.
The aviation veteran believes the number of hub airports in Europe will eventually slim down from five to three as more long-haul traffic passes through emerging hubs in geographically advantageous regions such as the Middle East.
Britain, in the grip of a major debate over airport capacity, should not to let its competitive advantage in aviation “slip away” through “disinterest”, he said in an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, on the eve of the group’s full-year results.
“Dubai and Istanbul, if you read their intentions to build a hub, are putting in big hub capacity. That will over time shift the flows of international traffic away from Europe and the competitive pressure between Heathrow and other European hubs will increase,” said Mr Matthews.
“The question at some stage will be not so much shall we have two [hubs] but how on earth are we going to be sure we have one at all? There are 27 member states in the EU, most of them do not have a hub. “It is not a birthright that we have this connectivity.”
Heathrow’s principal rival will be Amsterdam, the airport boss said. And the UK must not allow its aviation industry to go the same way as shipping, which withered in the face of competition from Holland.
“There was a time when shipping in the UK had a similar position and that went to Holland. It would be a pity if aviation went the same way and it could because Schiphol would like to do that,” he said.