With the U.K. government having put shackles on airport growth for London, there has been much talk that Heathrow – Europe’s hub of hubs – will wither.
But the facility’s owner, despite its own frustration on growth restrictions, does not share that sentiment. “It is not a birth right for the UK to have a hub at all,” Colin Matthews, BAA’s chief executive tells the Aviation Club in London, but that doesn’t mean Heathrow is at an end either.
As it is, airlines can walk away from Heathrow to pursue other options, but they aren’t. And, he reminds today’s audience, that London has higher demand concentration (by business) than hub rivals Paris or Amsterdam.
The price of Heathrow slots – which BAA does not actually own -- tells the story; slots at Heathrow carry a far higher value than those on the continent’s hubs. BAA on April 27 announced a pre-tax loss of £211 million in the first quarter of 2011, so having slot ownership certainly would be something management would have enjoyed being able to fall back on.
Speaking of the growth constrained environment the airport faces, Matthews points out that while “Heathrow would be stronger if we had more capacity,” the current situation, in some ways “leaves us free to improve the airport.”
There will be a lot of attention on those improvements, not just because the U.K. Competition Commission forced BAA to unload Gatwick and soon Stansted. Heathrow also has been under fire because of service problems during the winter, of which Matthews said today “was not fun”. While airport officials say many of those were linked to businesses operating at the airport it does not control, BAA has suffered the brunt of the reputational loss. Matthews acknowledges the situation will have to change, but warns change will not come overnight. “We're not perfect now, we won't be perfect tomorrow, but we're determined we will be better tomorrow than we were yesterday."
It’s perhaps not much, but Heathrow passengers at this point will be happy to see any progress.