Alastair Dalton: Lack of competition to Heathrow risk

When Virgin's Little Red services terminate, BA will a monopoly on Scottish routes to Heathrow. Picture: Ian Rutherford
When Virgin's Little Red services terminate, BA will a monopoly on Scottish routes to Heathrow. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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LACK OF competition is a risk for Scots flights to Heathrow, writes Alastair Dalton

Expansion since the recessionary dip has transformed Edinburgh and Glasgow from being mere “regional” airports to among Britain’s largest, with the capital’s now at number five.

Edinburgh has topped ten million passengers a year for the first time and regularly handles one million a month.

Glasgow, despite being overtaken by its rival eight years ago, is growing even faster and, at 8.4 million a year, is rapidly approaching its past record high.

Edinburgh will see 24 new routes by next summer, including to Vienna and Helsinki, and a third service to New York. Glasgow has secured a similar number over this year and next, reaching places like Las Vegas, Montreal and Bucharest.

However, some big gaps remain, especially from Glasgow, which is still without a link to Brussels, or anywhere in Scandinavia apart from Iceland.

There will be nothing that Glaswegians hate more than having to take the bus to Edinburgh to fly to major airports like Copenhagen.

In addition, while airlines make a huge song and dance over adding even a single extra flight, it would require the skills of an air traffic controller to track those carriers who reduce or end their services, often without so much as a whisper.

Among those slipping quietly away is Virgin Atlantic, which is throwing in the towel after failing in its attempt to compete with British Airways on Scotland’s busiest route, to Heathrow.

Without ceremony, the airline’s Little Red flights from Edinburgh and Aberdeen will end in eight days’ time – just two years after being inaugurated by Sir Richard Branson.

That will give BA a monopoly on Scottish routes to the UK’s hub airport for the first time in 33 years, apart from a period in 2012-13 between BA’s takeover of rival BMI and its new challenger launching flights. BMI had already given up on Glasgow in 2011.

BA will argue it still faces competition from EasyJet, Ryanair and Flybe to other London airports.

There have in fact never been so many flights between Edinburgh and London.

But until and unless Heathrow is permitted to build a third runway, there is little prospect of competition returning to that important route.

That could prove significant, both for fares for those passengers connecting to other flights and the reliability of the Scottish routes when they have often been the first to be cancelled by BA during disruption at Heathrow.