Emirates starts London Stansted flights as rival airports near capacity

STANSTED, England, June 8 (Reuters) - A first Emirates flight between Dubai and Britain’s Stansted Airport touched down on Friday, making it the first scheduled long-haul airline to fly to London’s third busiest airport as the city’s two bigger hubs are almost full.

The UK government wants to expand Heathrow Airport, the busiest in London, Britain and Europe, but a new runway won’t be ready until 2026, which Stansted said will give it an opportunity to grow its connections to the rest of the world.

London’s No.2 airport Gatwick is also full at the busiest times of the day.

Emirates, which already operates nine daily flights between London and Dubai from Heathrow Gatwick, said that it was also attracted to Stansted because of the travel demand it expects from the 25 multinational companies, such as AstraZeneca and GSK that have bases on the Stansted side of London.

Stansted is situated 40 miles north east of London and 30 miles from Cambridge, an area with fast growing tech and pharma industries, giving the airport the potential to develop into more than just the short-haul, leisure hub which it has been up until now.

Stansted CEO Ken O’Toole said that looking at travel patterns within the airport’s catchment area, there was the potential to add 25 to 30 more long-haul routes and he was in talks with dozens of airlines wanting to fly from Stansted.

“I’d rather not comment on specific airlines out of respect for those discussions,” he told Reuters, before a brand new Emirates Boeing 777-300ER touched down for the first time.

“We will continue to secure new long haul routes,” he added, suggesting destinations such as Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing and Singapore were possible.

Emirates said it was already seeing good demand on its Dubai-Stansted route.

“We expect the same high load factors as on the existing flights into the UK, it will be for sure crossing the 80 percent seat factor threshold,” Emirates divisional senior vice president Hubert Frach said, referring to a measure of how full the plane is.

Stansted already has a handful of long-haul flights with Thomas Cook, the tour operator, and low-cost carrier Primera Air to destinations in North America and the Caribbean.

Emirates is adding a daily flight from Edinburgh in October this year, but said apart from that there were no immediate plans to add more UK flights, though more were possible in the future.

“We are feeling very comfortable and confident that we will grow further here. Our commitment to the UK is very strong,” Frach said. (Reporting by Sarah Young, editing by James Davey)