London's airport challenge

February 06, 2013, 11:55 AM GMT+0

Yesterday the Centre for London, a London-focused think tank, held an event entitled ‘Does London need a hub airport?’ to discuss and debate the aviation capacity challenges facing London and the UK. The event was sponsored by Heathrow Airport, which recently published the report ‘One hub or none: The case for a single UK hub airport’, arguing that in order for the UK to capitalise on emerging markets such as the BRIC nations, Mexico, South Korea, Indonesia and Turkey, it is vital that it have a single airport that can compete with hubs like Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Paris.

BrandIndex tracks UK consumer perception of a range of international airports, and in September we reported that the on-going debate over the proposed third runway at Heathrow was having a negative impact on how it was being viewed by the public. According to the most recent Buzz score for Heathrow, which measures the proportion of UK consumers who are hearing something positive vs negative about a brand in the last two weeks, it continues to suffer from bad publicity, and it currently has the worst Buzz (-13.18) of the 25 airports BrandIndex tracks.

Heathrow 6th overall

However, according to the most recent Index scores (a composite score of six key measures of brand health) Heathrow Airport sits at 6th place overall in how it is viewed by UK consumers. This is respectable, and Heathrow scores particularly well on the Reputation (16.32) and Satisfaction (17.32) measures. But overall the UK’s largest airport still falls behind Singapore Changi (#5), New York JFK (#3), Amsterdam Schiphol Airport (#3), Gatwick Airport (#2), and Manchester Airport, which topped the list with an Index score of 12.68, compared with 7.59 points for Heathrow.

The answer to why Heathrow falls behind international hub competitors like Amsterdam may lie partly with connection times, which was a point raised repeatedly at the Centre for London debate. The current connection time (i.e. the amount of time passengers must spend in the airport between flights) for Heathrow is 60 to 105 minutes, while in Amsterdam it is 40 to 45 minutes. One speaker at the debate said he often hears from travellers that the worst part of their holiday is the time they spend in the airport, and thus “more thought needs to go into the quality of passenger experience”.

Improving customer experience

The aviation capacity challenge in London and the UK is a complicated and multifaceted one and the government-commissioned report, led by Sir Howard Davies and expected by 2015, will no doubt fuel debate amongst politicians, business leaders and consumers. While Heathrow Airport offers 75 destinations not available at other airports in the UK, it has been full since 2005 and so has not had any additional flights into Heathrow for about eight years. From a consumer perception point of view, faster connection times, improved customer experience, and a competitive variety of destinations will be essential if Heathrow hopes to best its rivals in the future.

Top 10 airports according to Index:

  1. Manchester Airport (12.68)
  2. Gatwick Airport (12.37)
  3. Amsterdam Schiphol Airport (12.16)
  4. New York JFK (8.1)
  5. Singapore Changi (7.79)
  6. Heathrow Airport (7.59)
  7. Stansted Airport (6.84)
  8. Edinburgh Airport (6.65)
  9. London City Airport (6.62)
  10. Birmingham Airport (6.38)

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