Last updated: 02:00 PM ET, Tue January 05 2016

Heathrow Appeals to Britons' Wanderlust to Promote Expansion Plans

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | January 05, 2016

Heathrow Appeals to Britons' Wanderlust to Promote Expansion Plans

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

London Heathrow has been pitching an expansion idea to Parliament in hopes that the government will approve a third runway before giving the go-ahead to a second runway at Gatwick. Heathrow’s plan has drawn complaints from environmentalists, who continue to protest the expansion because of the negative environmental impact it could have. Prime Minister David Cameron recently announced that he would delay the decision about whether to approve Heathrow’s expansion until the government could get more information about the environmental impact.  

Heathrow, one of the world’s busiest airports, wants the expansion to go ahead for obvious reasons. The potential project’s costs are estimated at about $33 billion. Heathrow is operating at near capacity and other airports in the London area and wider England are intent on offering alternatives to what is widely considered an overly busy hub. 

Give us a new runway, we'll give you new destinations

Heathrow has started using a new angle to promote its third runway idea after Cameron announced the delay in the approval decision. The airport is appealing to U.K. residents’ wanderlust. Heathrow has promised that flights taking off from the new runway would include a number of far-flung, “exotic” destinations that are not currently served by direct flights. 

For example, the runway would enable flights to the airport at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Ecuador’s popular but hard-to-reach (for Britons) capital, Quito. Other direct flights could include London-Memphis. The Tennessee city is on many U.K. travelers’ American itineraries because of Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley. Ski destinations like Salt Lake City were also mentioned. 

Competing with upstarts

There could also be other reasons to focus on less-served destinations. Secondary airports around the world compete by offering flights to "far-flung" destinations. With a third runway, Heathrow would be able to respond to this strategy if it was used by Gatwick or Manchester International.

In its latest pitch to the public, Heathrow mentioned plans to fly directly to “secondary cities” like Fuzhou, China and Thiruvananthapuram, India. Places like Panama City and Penang, Malaysia were also included in the list of possible destinations. 

This could be a game changer for underserved travel destinations

British backpackers and adventurous travelers probably had their interest peaked by Heathrow’s new destination "teasers." Another group of people also took notice. The travel industries in some of the places mentioned could benefit hugely from direct flights.

Thiruvananthapuram, the second city in Kerala, India (after Kochi), is a hub for both beach vacations and safari trips to the nearby wildlife sanctuaries. It has been known as a clean, green city since the time of Gandhi, but many travelers find it hard to reach because of a lack of direct flights. The same dynamic applies to Fuzhou, which sits between major tourist gateways like Hong Kong and Shanghai. 

Direct flights from London would certainly be a source of pride - “we’re big enough and important enough for direct flights” - and also a building block for tourism growth.    

The odds of (eventual) approval are good

Despite the protests, it seems like the runway expansion will eventually go ahead. A majority of the members of Parliament’s Conservative and Labour parties said they approve of the expansion plans at Heathrow. That is more than the percentage who favor a second runway at Gatwick. 

Despite Heathrow’s teasers, these new flights are not in the near future. It will be a decade, at least, before the first passenger boards a Heathrow-Quito flight taking off from the new third runway. Still, though, the idea has given travelers in the U.K. (and perhaps elsewhere in Europe) a stake in the coming decision in Parliament. 


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