Row kicks off between regional airports

BIRMINGHAM Airport has reacted angrily to moves by its Manchester counterpart to stage an event in Birmingham aimed at luring customers to its new Chinese service.

Representatives of Hainan Airlines and Manchester Airport have booked Hotel La Tour tomorrow to promote the benefits of the new flights to the Birmingham business community.

Ironically, Hainan is the airline which operated services at Birmingham last summer.

In a statement, Manchester Airport said its new scheduled flights to Beijing would bring direct benefits to the 54,002 Birmingham residents who travel to China each year.

In a veiled attempt to undermine Birmingham, it states: “Currently people living in Birmingham have to travel via London or other overseas hubs to reach Beijing. The new route will also generate journey time savings worth £5m every year for UK business passengers. 37,413 passengers from Birmingham currently travel to Beijing each year.”

It added that Beijing service, which starts on June 10, would “massively shorten” journey times to the Chinese capital. Taking 10 and a half hours, the A330-300 aircraft will have 32 business class seats and 260 in economy.

“It will be a four-weekly service, making Manchester the only airport outside of London with a direct service to Mainland China,” it added.

However, Birmingham Airport, which  will be announcing its own Chinese service shortly, has reacted angrily to the move to try and poach its business.

Hitting back, Paul Kehoe, chief executive, of Birmingham Airport said: “China is an enormous growth market for the UK with many regions increasing trade with Chinese companies. It is surprising therefore, that another region should need to come to our city to promote its services.”

He said demand for flights to China from Birmingham was significant and growing, driven mainly by the Midlands’ strong trading relationship with China.
Around 150,000 people flew between the Midlands and China last year and Kehoe said an overwhelming majority of them wanted to fly from their local airport.

“This local demand has brought ‘Eastbound’ growth to Birmingham Airport of more than 25% over the last 12 months with new routes and more flights to choose from.  It was very significant that Birmingham was the first airport outside London to have direct services to mainland China that operated in summer 2014 and 2015 at almost 100% load factor,” he added.

“Following the huge success of these flights, negotiations with a Chinese airline have progressed well and the airline has now filed slots to operate scheduled flights  between Birmingham and Beijing and Birmingham and Shanghai this summer.

“We are finalising arrangements with the airline and will very shortly make an announcement so that passengers living and working in our region will be able to book flights direct to China from Birmingham.”

Manchester Airport has responded by saying that the two airports’ catchment areas overlap and it simply has routes Birmingham does not, so it promotes them across the whole catchment area.

Ken O’Toole, chief executive of Manchester Airport said: “The choice of long haul destinations at Manchester is huge and includes many destinations that cannot be found anywhere else in the United Kingdom, outside of London.”

He added: “Hainan Airlines year round scheduled service, which starts on June 10, will ensure passengers have an alternative at Manchester Airport, than having to travel from a congested London airport system.

“We know from experience that passengers from the Midlands already use Manchester Airport for our unique long haul network and we know that the direct Beijing flight starting in June with Hainan Airlines, will see custom by passengers from the Midlands who do not want to fly from Heathrow.”