Ryanair's Brexit threat is a distraction from a real problem

Ryanair's Brexit threat is a distraction from a real problem

Dublin Airport at night
Ever since that referendum was announced, we've been debating how people should be able to get in to the UK. I've been arguing that this is a red herring. The more urgent debate is how the hell are planes supposed to land here anyway?

Let me explain: the UK's airspace is full. I know you can point to lots of exceptions of that: Stansted has room for expansion, and there are non-airports like London Oxford and Wolverhampton which could be made busier if we wanted to. However you can't tell people where to go. Most customers go where they want to, and the airports they want to use (Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester) are all full.

So every time Ryanair threatens to reduce the flights it operates in the UK (they always threaten, that's the only way they know how to negotiate: how do you think they get such cheap landing deals?), I'm left thinking 'they don't have a choice'.

Ryanair serves airports like Malplensa and Basel where there's lots of space for expansion. They can't expand if the airports they go from, like Gatwick, are full. They'll have to stop expanding. In complicated business terms, that means shrinking.

I find this whole debate extremely ironic, because Brexit is all about proving the UK can stand on its own two feet. A lot of people voted leave because they hate the fact no money is ever spent on our crap roads, our crap trains and our crap airports. I'm not a fan of putting concrete over everything, but it's clear that if the UK is to step up its game, it needs to start with a lot of building.

But here's the delicious truth: if you take the Daily Mail as being an insight into the average Brexit supporter (which I suspect isn't that far off) hates infrastructure. The Daily Mail deeply hates the high speed railway, which could free up airspace by replacing short-haul flights. It hates the idea of a third runway being built at Heathrow, and while it loves cars, it hates the idea of somebody else being allowed to drive near you.

So while it's very easy to blame Brexit for all the difficulties the UK aviation industry will face over the next three years, the reality is it's our own dislike of infrastructure that has forced airlines to reconsider their business strategies. Because while we're dithering over what to do about Heathrow, Heathrow's rival airports (Amsterdam, Dublin, Paris) are all expanding. Not only do they offer the security of the EU, they offer space for more flights too.

At this point, you might think it's unfortunate timing that a few months ago the government committed its support to expanding Heathrow Airport. Here's the catch: my favourite part of that announcement was the comment from the inspector who reviewed the cancelled 2007 expansion plans, who said "it basically hasn't changed in ten years". We've just had ten years of debate and have ended up where we started. I have seen no evidence that in ten years time we will be any further.

Heathrow's business strategy is that people travelling from Newquay to New York can get it cheaper if they go via London. If Dublin terminal 3 wins over the local residents, I genuinely believe that responsibility could be moved over the Irish sea.

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I love music, media, news, travelling, old TV shows, heavy machinery, lists. Have a fear of boats. Humour is weak at best.

I present/produce radio, I write, I'll be whoever you want to be. I'm not wearing that.

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© 2018 Johnathan Randall.