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BHX: minor Midlands airport or gateway to the world?

Simon Calder’s Travel

London Heathrow lies 87 miles southeast, representing about 10 minutes’ flying time. Luton airport is 71 miles away in much the same direction. Manchester airport stands 66 miles northwest, while East Midlands is only 32 miles northeast.

Where am I? Birmingham airport, of course. And in the company of the chief executive of the West Midlands hub, Nick Barton. With competitors in such close proximity, doesn’t he feel a little squeezed?

“If you didn’t offer the network coverage and the pricing, then yes – but that isn’t the case,” he says. “We have more people in our catchment area than live in Canada. It’s a big old number of people.

“With the variety of airlines we’ve got, and they’re all competing strongly, they’re stimulating and penetrating that catchment.”

We are speaking on the day that easyJet launched its new base at Birmingham airport, where three Airbus jets will be located. It is easyJet’s first new base in the UK for 12 years (during which time Britain’s biggest budget airline has closed bases at East Midlands, Newcastle, Stansted and Southend).

The phrase “ferocious competition” seems designed for the expansion. Among the 16 new routes easyJet has announced, five serve key resort airports in Spain: Alicante, Barcelona, Fuerteventura, Malaga and Tenerife. Jet2 and Ryanair already fly to all of them.

Tui and the Spanish budget airline, Vueling, also compete, and to complete the set Wizz Air offers a handful of links. Is this, I wonder, going to be the most competitive airport in the UK for European flights – even more so than Manchester?

“I’d hope so, because the winner in that circumstance is the customer,” says the Birmingham CEO. “It always is.”

“We can only expect to see [the airlines] challenging each other and getting better. That’s what they’ve done down the recent history of aviation. They’ve always been successful, and we’ve got all of them here.

“So we are very, very comfortable in seeing that competitive tension between the airlines.”

Can competition go too far, though? I confessed to Barton that my previous two reporting assignments to Birmingham airport had been for the collapse of Monarch in 2017 and the failure of Flybe in 2020.

“It was the evolution of our industry, wasn’t it? Where the older operators with older business models are out-competed by…

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