Friday, 12 March 2010

Letter from an Aerodrome - BHX trounces BAA

Telegrammed by Biggles
Questions will no doubt be asked at the British Airport Authority’s (BAA) Heathrow bunker this weekend over how the HS2 link hit the blocks.

HS2’s report was dismissive of the suggested link, sniffily pointing out that over 80% of prospective punters for HS2 will want to get to Central London, and not be delayed by 9 minutes taking the scenic route via Heathrow.

Meanwhile the big aviation winner in the HS2 plans unveiled by Adonis yesterday is Independent Birmingham Airport’s (BHX) - which should gain a swanky new Airport station, putting Birmingham International Airport just 38 minutes from London and encroaching on Heathrow’s lucrative customer base.

The HS2 team also saw through a ‘Trojan Horse’ report from the Conservative Bow Group – which whined on about the importance of feeding ever-increasing numbers of punters to Heathrow.

Industry cynics see the Bow report as a pisspoor vicarious attempt to attract volume, thus justifying the deeply loathed third runway at Heathrow (prop. BAA) rather than distribute aviation to other UK airports with spare capacity.

The BHX change of fortunes results from a happy planetary alignment which saw new Chief Executive Paul Kehoe parachuted in during 2008, to give the Birmingham BHX regime a good shake-up (shurely 'kicking'? – ed), with a new gospel that the world did not end at the county boundary.

Since then Kehoe has orchestrated a £50 million new terminal, and is well on his way to starting work on a runway extension which will see BHX competing on a level playing field with all the other ‘big boys’ for very long-haul aviation business.

Adding HS2 to the mix will signal open season on the cosy coterie of so-called London Airports who are terrified that new long-haul airlines may choose Birmingham instead.

BAA’s spin machine was caught off guard when Reichsmarshall Kehoe deployed his secret weapon - none other than the sharp-shooting and combative Baron Von Richtmorris (former Virgin Cross Country PR monkey John Morris).

After shredding the ludicrous ‘Boris Island’ Airport proposal, Morris cheerfully declared that BHX should feature on the Underground Map as, in journey time, it would soon be in Zone 4 – closer than Gatwick, Stansted, Luton – or even Heathrow on a good day. Evidently an Aviation Wonk promoting rail has succeeded in winning friends in high places.

It helps of course that Kehoe is not an aviation ideologue. He has caused more than a stir in the rank and file of aviationistas by suggesting that the German Model – to ‘fly the train’ and mix modes should not be beyond the wit of man, even in Britain. If some short-haul European business goes to rail then so be it – there are bigger fish to fry.

He also infuriated BAA, BA and Virgin bosses at the AGM of the Airport Operators Association (ATOC for the flyboys) by pointing out that Heathrow had six runways in 1946 and they’d been rather careless in losing four of them. Such was the old guard fury over this witty observation that it was excised from the official record of proceedings!

Whilst aviation industry grandees find his approach irksome, Kehoe has impressed politicians of all colours by his practical yet blunt style which offers solutions without making huge demands on the local environment or the public purse.

His killer blow was that Birmingham has slots to spare – claiming it can take another 9 million extra passengers without pouring a drop of concrete and that Birmingham could provide a Solution to the ‘Heathrow Problem’ for around 2% of the cost and without slating 700 homes for demolition.

Clearly BAA was over confident that Adonis and HS2 Limited would fall in line, sheep-like, as so many politicians and transport planners have done before.