As prime minister Theresa May sets off on a trade mission to China, research out today underscores the value of frequent, direct connections between the UK’s hub airport, Heathrow, and the Middle Kingdom.
It also identifies the urgent need to add capacity on these routes in order to support the government’s trade strategy.
The research, carried out by Frontier Economics, reveals Heathrow’s direct flights to China already contribute more than £510 million annually to the UK economy and creates nearly 15,000 jobs.
Just one extra flight per week, on to these existing routes, will provide a further cash injection of £16 million a year as a result of increased business travel, and stimulation for increased trade and investment between China and the UK.
This incremental increase in capacity could also support an additional 530 jobs annually, a small taste of the opportunities that will accompany up to 40 new-long haul routes and increased route frequency that Heathrow’s expansion will create.
At a critical time in Britain’s future global trading relationship, Heathrow acts as a vital link between China and the UK, offering more than 100 direct flights to China every week.
Of these, 55 go to Hong Kong, 22 to Shanghai, 20 to Beijing, ten to Guangzhou and two to Qingdao.
Of the £510 million annual contribution by existing routes, £315 million is made up by Hong Kong, followed by Beijing and Shanghai.
While connections to Chinese cities are clearly valuable to the UK, rival EU hub airports with capacity to cope are able to fly to 14 other Chinese destinations, opening up more trade and investment to their respective countries.
Frontier Economics points out the role Heathrow plays as a port of higher value, higher-tech commodities such as aircraft and spacecraft, optical and photographic instruments, pharmaceuticals and electricals and in facilitating trade in sectors ranging from manufacturing to artificial intelligence.
The planning process for Heathrow expansion is already underway, with the airport carrying out its first public consultation on its emerging plans starting this month.
Parliament is expected to vote on a National Policy Statement in the first half of this year, which will set out the policy framework for Heathrow’s final planning submission.
John Holland-Kaye, chief executive of Heathrow, said: “Heathrow is proud of its role as a gateway to these vital Chinese markets; enabling global trade as the UK’s largest port by value, acting as a catalyst for thousands of jobs for the local community and contributing billions to the UK economy.
“Expansion of Heathrow is a chance to deepen relations between China and the UK; as the report highlights, just one extra route could contribute hundreds of jobs and millions to the UK’s GDP.
“As the country prepares to leave the EU and China’s economy continues to grow exponentially, this is an opportunity the UK cannot afford to miss.”