LONDON, April 10 Northwest England's Manchester
airport is to operate direct flights to Hong Kong later this
year and more services to China could follow, stepping up
competition with London Heathrow, which is operating almost at
Heathrow, Europe's busiest airport, is falling behind rival
European hubs in the battle for lucrative routes to emerging
markets because of the constraints on expansion.
Manchester Airport, in northern England, said on Thursday
that Cathay Pacific would begin a four-times-a-week
service to Hong Kong from December, the first time passengers in
Britain will be able to travel directly to China on a scheduled
service from outside London.
Manchester Airport Group's chief executive Charlie Cornish
said talks with two other airlines, Air China and
Hainan Airline, regarding opening more routes to
China were underway.
"We're talking to them about a direct route from Manchester
to Beijing. I'm hopeful that that will come through over the
course of the next 12 months," he told Reuters.
Lawmakers and business leaders agree that Britain needs new
runways to remain economically competitive but all plans are on
hold while the government's special Airports Commission
A recommendation about where a new runway should go will be
made by the Airports Commission in the second half of next year,
but building would not complete until the middle 2020s, giving
other airports in Britain a chance to add new flights as air
travel demand grows.
Heathrow, is operating at 98 percent of its potential
compared with Manchester, Britain's third busiest airport, which
is operating at 60 percent capacity, and Stansted, the country's
fourth biggest airport and London's third, which is operating at
Manchester Airport and Stansted are owned by Manchester
Airport Group which in turn is owned by an Australian pension
fund and a group of regional councils around Manchester.
"We'll be starting to look at the opportunity to bring
long-haul opportunities to Stansted as well," Cornish said,
confirming that the group was in talks with long-haul carriers
regarding options at Stansted, but declining to name them.
(Reporting by Sarah Young; Editing by Greg Mahlich)