Last updated: 02:00 PM ET, Tue November 24 2015

After Breaking Record, Manchester Airport Ready to Compete with Heathrow

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | November 24, 2015

After Breaking Record, Manchester Airport Ready to Compete with Heathrow

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

Manchester Airport is the busiest hub in the UK outside of London. It just saw its 23 millionth passenger for the year, making 2015 the busiest year on record. Planes fly to more than 200 destinations from Manchester, and the airport can handle even more traffic now that a second runway has been built. 

Despite the new runway and other upgrades, most airlines still choose to take their long-haul flights to Heathrow. Manchester does have a modest number of overseas routes at the moment, but, chances are, fliers coming from the U.S. or Asia will land in London, even if their final destination is in Northern England. 

Flybe is the only airline that maintains a hub in Manchester, though vacation-centered carrier Thomas Cook also has a large presence. 

Making use of increased capacity  

After the second runway was added, Manchester’s capacity rose to 55 million passengers per year. This means that even with its record year, the airport is operating at less than half capacity. Meanwhile, London’s main airports, Heathrow and Gatwick, are both on the verge of being overcrowded. 

Authorities are discussing plans to expand London’s hubs. Heathrow’s renovations can only go forward if the government approves the project. As it waits for the go-ahead, the London airport ticks closer and closer to full capacity. Even if the expansion is eventually approved, it will take years to add on to terminals and build another runway. 

Ready to step up and take more flights

Manchester is ready to step in and siphon off some of London’s air traffic. The first goal is to get people from around the region to choose Manchester instead of heading down to London. Manchester’s Managing Director, Ken O’Toole, has said that a new regional high-speed rail link project “will shrink the size of the UK for passengers, meaning more people can get to an airport quicker…” 

Over 20 million people live within two hours of Manchester, so having better ground transportation options (road as well as rail) could really help increase passenger numbers. 

Trying to lure long-haul carriers

As far as gaining notice as an international hub, Manchester is looking for more long-haul routes. The biggest recent success is the launch of service to the Far East. Flights to Beijing Capital Airport will start next June. Air China is also in talks with Manchester to establish a route between there and Shanghai. Cathay Pacific already flies to Hong Kong from Manchester.

U.S. airlines fly into the airport from New York, while vacation-centered carriers like Thomas Cook Airlines have routes to Florida and the Caribbean. Virgin has service to Atlanta and Las Vegas. The busiest long-haul route is Manchester-Dubai, which is operated by Emirates. 

There are hopes to expand to India, Thailand, and other far-flung destinations with the goal being to provide direct service from Manchester instead of having passengers in Central and Northern England have to go down to London or connect in Dubai or New York before reaching their final destination. 

Manchester will be able to handle a lot more traffic, and the airport is aggressively trying to secure new routes that will take its long haul offerings beyond vacation destinations to major hub cities around the world. 

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