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London Buzz: New Airport Planned; Heathrow Argues Against "Splitting" Hubs (WITH VIDEO)

November 11, 2013

London's airspace may soon see a paradigm shift if a proposed new airport comes to fruition: A plan is in place to build a six-runway airport called London Britannia Airport that is expected to cost $75.6 billion.

According to the BBC, the consortium behind the plan has said that the airport could be built on Boris Island, a new island in the Thames Estuary, within seven years. Breaking Travel News noted that the Davies airport commission is currently reviewing potential sites for more airport capacity in the South East, including additional runways at Gatwick and Heathrow.

Testrad (Thames Estuary Research and Development) said the island plan avoided the problems of other land-based airport developments. 

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The runway configuration would reportedly allow three or four aircraft to operate at the same time, 24-hours-a-day in all weather conditions.

Meanwhile, a report commissioned by Heathrow Airport is suggesting that splitting airline "hubs" throughout London's airports would not be feasible. The study, conducted by independent aviation consultants JLS Consulting, reportedly found no evidence that any cities across the world have successfully split their hubs, or that low-cost carriers, new aircraft or relocating alliances will change that.

The research looked at cities around the world to see if there was any evidence that the split solution could work, and concluded that there are no successful versions of this model.

The JLS report shows that while short-haul, point to point services have seen rapid growth in the UK since the late 1990s, the same has not happened with long-haul services despite there being space at non-hub airports. 

Many cities around the world have multiple airports but, like London, the cities use those airports for different functions – and have, at most, one hub. New York has three network carriers but still only supports one hub airport at Newark. JFK operates as a point-to-point airport supported by New York’s huge urban population (circa 19 million). Tokyo attempted to split its hub airport into two and its connectivity and economy has suffered as a result. Paris has one hub (Charles de Gaulle) with Orly operating as a point-to-point airport. Moscow has no hub and consequently poor international connectivity.

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The report argues that the complexity and financial difficulties of integrating carrier schedules to make use of transfer traffic explains why there are so few hub airports in the world, "let alone two competing hubs in the same city."

The report adds that moving an alliance to another airport would not be enough to create a second hub without a network carrier based there to make it work. After the EU/US ‘Open Skies’ agreement, Air France tried a Heathrow-Los Angeles service. But the report says that the route struggled as it isolated the long-haul planes from the short-haul fleet at its Paris hub base. 

New aircraft like 787s do not seem likely to invalidate the hub model, with IAG’s CEO, Willie Walsh, pointing out the vast majority of airlines ordering these aircraft are traditional hub operators. 

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