Birmingham International Airport chiefs are aiming to add more transatlantic routes on top of the two that will soon be operated by new carrier Primera Air.
The airport has been without a transatlantic route since October after United Airlines stopped a New York service, but Primera will operate low-cost long-haul services to New York (from May) and Toronto (from June) and short-haul European routes, which is another boost after Monarch went bankrupt last year.
Aviation director, Will Pearson said it was important to get a transatlantic route back along with adding another long-haul connection to Toronto. “Primera will be offering very low cost fares on these routes, which is what our region has told us they needs and as long as these routes are well used then this is just the beginning,” Pearson said.
“This will become more than just a carrier that operates to New York and Toronto and will offer new transatlantic routes from Birmingham as they are getting additional aircraft in 2019. We have to prove to that this can work for them, us and the region,” he added.
Pearson said the airport is always in the market for new carriers and routes, and the main focus is developing services west and its long-haul network. “When we look east we are reasonably well connected and have got some really important carriers operating eastbound long-haul, but when we look west we are less well connected.
“We have great connections with carriers like Aer Lingus to US and Canadian cities (via Ireland) but from a non-stop point of view we aren’t as well connected to the west and have to grow that.
“We already have a lot of daily connectivity to places like the UAE and India and we see no reason why these will not grow and then westbound with Primera Air starting New York services that will grow to daily as long as flights are well used and profitable,” he said.
European routes are growing, and Pearson said it has ambitions to connect with at least daily services to all the primary cities on the continent. “We started services recently to new place like Vienna, which has not been connected from Birmingham before and to Lisbon.
“We are going to build on them to make them daily to give leisure travellers (80 per cent of our customers) and also for business travellers who might want to travel to them on a Monday,” he said.
In 2017 Birmingham handled a shade under 13 million passengers, and has grown traffic by nearly 60 per cent over the last four years.
But Pearson said growth has come at a cost as facilities have been stretched. “It has put a strain on some of our customer service facilities and we want to build them back up to scratch. 2018 is the year we will invest in facilities like drop-off free car parking, which is being brought back, and a new security area which has been under pressure in the last four years.”
Birmingham has one runway but plenty of space to expand while Heathrow Airport and Gatwick Airport further south have little free capacity, but Pearson’s only focus is Birmingham and with 10 million living in the region flying about 22 million times a year, there is opportunity to grow traffic.
“Heathrow is a closer airport to Birmingham so passengers are less likely to want to go to Gatwick, but from my point of view whatever being decided is going to be a politically difficult discussion and things like HS2 will happen a long way before any new runways in the south east making Birmingham 30 minutes from central London, so I don’t really mind what happens,” he said.
He added: “My job is to make sure the 10 million doing 22 million flights can do it from their local airport. Within two hours there are 35 million people. We need to listen to what passengers want which is air services and customer services and that is what we will do.”