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Domestic slots guaranteed for new London Heathrow runway

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Heathrow airport

The UK government has said it is prepared to intervene to reserve slots at London Heathrow Airport for domestic flights if the airport’s planned expansion goes ahead.

The long-awaited third runway at the London hub is inching toward its starting point, although progress on the controversial project is expected to continue to be slow, with several environmental and community groups predicted to launch judicial review proceedings against the plan.

International Airlines Group (IAG), the parent group of the airport’s largest operator, British Airways, has also consistently expressed alarm over the cost of the project.

Assuming the runway eventually gets the go-ahead, however, the government will put in place Public Service Obligations (PSOs)—the UK equivalent of US Essential Air Services arrangements—to protect routes if required.

Such a move would also exempt the PSO routes from the UK’s air passenger duty, one of the world’s heaviest departure taxes, which regularly attracts the ire of airlines.

It would mark the first time that flights from Heathrow to regional airports have been safeguarded. Over the past two decades, many routes linking Heathrow to the UK regions have been scrapped in favor of more lucrative long-haul services.

Long-haul services have also allowed larger aircraft to be used, making maximum use of the heavily slot-constrained airport’s capacity.

PSOs already exist to protect flights from one UK city to another, but reserving flights specifically from domestic airports to Heathrow would ensure direct links to the UK’s hub airport, opening up connections with the rest of the world.

The news follows confirmation that the government wants about 15% of the new capacity that will be created by the third runway to be used for domestic flights. This would, for example, provide an estimated extra 100 flights per week to and from Heathrow and Scottish airports.

The government added that routes could also be reserved for specific times to ensure they deliver services for passengers when they most need them, notably early-morning flights to cater for business travelers.

Additional capacity at Heathrow is also expected to encourage competition between airlines, bringing down prices for British passengers. EasyJet and UK-based regional Flybe have already outlined new routes they would expect to serve from an expanded Heathrow.

 

atw

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