New aircraft make long-haul journeys more viable

A WAVE of intercontinental air links to and from Scotland is set to take off in the coming years thanks to the latest generation of highly efficient planes, according to American Airlines’ UK airports chief.

The American Airlines direct service from Edinburgh to Philadelphia. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Clive Cook, who was in Edinburgh for the launch of a direct service to Philadelphia, said new models such as Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner and a raft of offerings from Airbus are a “game changer”, making long-haul routes from regional airports such as Edinburgh and Glasgow far more viable than they used to be.

“New aircraft are changing the economics of flying from regional airports,” he said. “I think you will see a lot of new routes [from Scottish airports] over the next 15 years.”

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Cook said transatlantic and other long-haul routes from medium-sized airports had rarely proved profitable in the past.

But the new generation of jets incur lower landing charges because they are lighter and can be cheaper to run in terms of crew, as well as being more fuel-efficient.

Boeing and Airbus have also increased the maximum range of their smaller aircraft, meaning that intercontinental flights are no longer the exclusive preserve of the largest planes.

Already American, which merged with US Airways in December, is launching routes between the United States and Europe as the recovering economy renews the US appetite for holidays in the Old World. Cook said the new aircraft are also transforming links to regional Chinese cities, with growing business connections to Europe and America.

American’s daily service to Philadelphia – a hub airport from which it operates shuttle services to other US cities – is one of three intercontinental connections being launched from Edinburgh within a week. Qatar Airways opens a five-days-a-week connection to Doha on Wednesday using the Dreamliner, while United’s new Chicago link took off on Friday.

Meanwhile, Edinburgh is also seeking a link to Helsinki Airport, which offers many onward connections into the emerging-market areas of Russia and Asia.

Edinburgh Airport chairman Sir John Elvidge has been in the Finnish capital in the last few days to negotiate with Finnair. He said he hopes the new US flights will persuade the carrier to commit to trying an Edinburgh service, something which it has been considering.

Finnair is part of a joint venture with American, British Airways and Iberia which allows them to co-operate on transatlantic flights.