COMPETITION is supposed to improve services for the consumer.
For passengers flying between Glasgow and London Heathrow, market forces have had the opposite effect.
British Airways (BA) is the only airline operating direct flights between Scotland's largest city and the UK's main international hub, following the withdrawal of BMI last year. The nine daily flights offered by BA from Glasgow, however, cannot meet the demand for business and leisure travel to Heathrow, despite the airline using larger aircraft to provide more seats. By comparison it operates 18 flights a day from Edinburgh and 13 from Aberdeen, including 13 former BMI flights.
This clear disadvantage to Glasgow-based passengers is largely the result of unfortunate timing. BMI abandoned its Glasgow to Heathrow service in 2011 because it was losing £1 million a year on the route. Since this was an internal decision by the company as opposed to a takeover, there was no intervention to prevent a monopoly, even though it meant BA was the only airline operating on the route. This is in stark contrast to the situation at Edinburgh and Aberdeen airports. They, too, have lost the services provided by BMI. However, it was a condition of the purchase of BMI by BA's Spanish parent company International Airlines Group (IAG) earlier this year that seven of the former BMI slots to Heathrow must be re-allocated to rival airlines.
The condition was imposed by the European Commission to prevent a monopoly following the takeover. Yet because the monopoly now held by BA on the Glasgow to Heathrow route was not the result of BMI being acquired by a rival but came about before the airline was sold, there is no automatic mechanism to safeguard the level of service or ensure a choice.
In fact, rival airline Easyjet has increased capacity from Glasgow to the other London airports since the withdrawal of BMI but most business travellers and all passengers using Heathrow to connect with other flights want a direct flight to the main UK hub.
The commercial potential of London-to-Scotland services is evidenced by the competition between Virgin Atlantic and Aer Lingus for the Edinburgh and Aberdeen slots BA is forced to give up. It is also clear that there is considerable unmet demand for flights between Glasgow and Heathrow and that passengers from the west of Scotland are being seriously inconvenienced.
In appealing to the European Commission to be included in the conditions imposed following the takeover of BMI, Glasgow Airport makes a case for common sense. If the sale to IAG had gone ahead only a few months sooner, there would have been a requirement to maintain the Glasgow to Heathrow slots.
Intervention in commercial contracts is justified to protect essential services. To fail to do so undermines the whole process. In the case of the Scottish airports, maintaining vital connections to Aberdeen and Edinburgh but not to Glasgow defies both fairness and logic.
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