30-seconds with: Paul Kehoe, CEO,
Birmingham Airport wants a route to its US twin – Chicago; as well as Japan, China, Thailand and Singapore.
anna.aero: Aren’t you scared that your runway extension is going to be a white elephant?
Kehoe: The fundamental point is that not only are we doing it for long-haul traffic, we are also doing it for medium-haul. The 757 has been the workhorse of this airport; the current fleet of A321s is seen as one of the 757 replacements and we can’t afford to lose those – it’s a major part of our business and the runway extension will support that. We have to keep up with the capability of the new generation of medium-haul aircraft; without the runway extension, we would severely limit our capability.
anna.aero: Do you ever think you will be able to stop families driving to Heathrow for an economy fare to the US on a direct flight (rather than via a hub in Europe or US)?
Kehoe: People always prefer direct flights. Of course, British Airways and Virgin came out in the press recently and said Birmingham will never be an international airport of any note. But I expected them to say that and I’m almost delighted they said it, because it shows they’re taking us seriously. But the future cannot be British Airways and Virgin for all of the UK, if they’re just going to concentrate on Heathrow. Once the Chinese and Indians start travelling, I’m convinced that liberalisation will come along and someone else will set up competing traffic opportunities. The more direct services we get, the more families will come back. As people value their time more, we’re seeing more business passengers come to Birmingham. And what passengers are telling us, and what Lufthansa has told us, is that people prefer Birmingham to Heathrow because of the convenience. The UK is not just the South East – the UK is 40 million people outside the South East.
anna.aero: Is the airport concerned that once again it has put all its eggs in one basket with Monarch – just as it did with MyTravelite, duo and bmibaby in the past – all of which have gone bust and resulted in the airport losing hundreds of thousands of passengers overnight.
Kehoe: We’ve been very good in the past at backing the wrong airline – we never engaged with Ryanair and easyJet when we should have done. Along comes Monarch and it says it thinks it can replace bmibaby. Monarch represents about 1.2 million passengers, as do Ryanair and Flybe; Emirates and Lufthansa both have half a million. If anything went wrong with any of our airlines it would be painful, but we’re not beholden to one airline in particular. It would take two or three airlines to go under to cause us to have real problems; but if that were the case, every other airport in the country would be exposed, not just us.
anna.aero: When can the local Indian community expect a direct flight to Amritsar?
Kehoe: When Air India gets out of its financial mess. We signed an agreement with the Chairman of Air India to start operations and he got fired, so we’ve had to go back to square one and start again. But it’s like being a dentist in a treacle factory – it’s bloody, it’s painful and you can’t move around, you’re just stuck to the floor!
anna.aero: What are your most desired new routes?
Kehoe: One of the games we can’t play at the moment is ultra long-haul, but the runway extension gives us the opportunity of adding about 2,000 nautical miles. From Birmingham, that takes you just about everywhere you need to go – Tokyo, Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Singapore. We’d also ideally like a Chicago service: firstly, there is significant trade and Chicago has phenomenal connections; secondly, the two cities are twinned and are roughly the same size, with a metro area of around 2.73 million.