On my (empty’ish) British Airways flight out to Mumbai, I read a worrying piece in the Financial Times (“Lack of aviation ties to emerging world expected to cost (UK) £14bn”). New research commissioned by BAA, the UK airport operator, has shown that Heathrow operates 22 daily flights to growth markets like China and India, less than Paris (25) and Frankfurt (27) – the UK doesn’t have any direct flights to Guangzhou, China’s manufacturing hub, Paris has 290. The research forecasts that the shortfall could be even worse by 2012, and that this matters because (I quite the FT) “UK businesses trade 20 times as much with developing countries that have a direct daily flight to Britain than they do with those nations that have less frequent service or none at all”. Frontier Economics, who conducted the research, estimated Heathrow’s lack of capacity could cost the UK £1.6bn a year by 2021 in lost business opportunity.
Now this is a piece of lobbying by BAA – in the absence of a new third runway, it wants the government to let it to squeeze more flights out of Heathrow’s current two. But the coalition’s opposition to a third runway (which would have ruined the sleep of large numbers of Conservative and Liberal Democrat voters) is looking ill-judged, unless it has a plan up its sleeve. Although I’m a fan of modernising the UK’s railways, I’m not sure how High Speed 2, the new train link between London and the Midlands and North of England, is going to help more British entrepreneurs get out to Asia.