Sunday 19 January 2020

Four new routes to UK on the way - regardless of Brexit

'Long-forgotten Waterford Airport was first up to the plate this week, announcing routes to London Luton, Manchester and Birmingham.'
'Long-forgotten Waterford Airport was first up to the plate this week, announcing routes to London Luton, Manchester and Birmingham.'

Mark Evans

Despite all the talk about Brexit reducing passenger numbers between Britain and Ireland, connectivity from here to England is actually on the increase.

A case in point - not one, but four new routes from Ireland to Britain coming on stream in the coming weeks.

Long-forgotten Waterford Airport was first up to the plate this week, announcing routes to London Luton, Manchester and Birmingham.

Flights will be operated by Irish startup Aer Southeast, which has the backing of Irish and Scandinavian investors, and which will be plying its trade with Saab 340 aircraft.

It's a shot in the arm for the regional airport, which will now offer some decent outbound connectivity for business travellers in the southeast, and further open up Ireland's Ancient East for the inbound market, with six flights a week to Luton, three to Manchester and three to Birmingham.

Aer Lingus Regional - operated by Stobart Air - pulled out of the London-Southend route in 2016. British regional carrier Flybe did likewise a year earlier. Now the route is back on (starting on October 29). It will be operated by Stobart Air (again) under Flybe colours. Here's hoping lightning doesn't strike three times.

Joking aside, while the airline's talk of the new route opening up Irish trade to Essex (really ????), Southend Airport does have a lot going for it.

For one, it boasts 15 minutes from plane to train - and its trains, operated by the airport itself, connect to London's Liverpool Street (convenient for the City) in 45 minutes, which is more than a match for Heathrow's Piccadilly Line Tube.

And it has an outspoken, borderline bolshy ceo in Glyn Jones, who's worried about congestion in London's airspace, which is of huge importance given that Dublin-London is Europe's busiest corridor, with 4.8 million passengers a year.

As he puts it himself: "I believe there is another way to approach air travel in London and the South East. A better way. If you don't believe me, give it a go - the next time you fly, fly super-fast through London Southend Airport. And if you still don't believe me after that, I will give you your next flight for free."

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But he's a bit of fresh air when it comes to the London situation - and will find friends with anyone who's been stuck in a never-ending holding pattern over Hounslow.

He points out that airports in the region will reach absolute capacity by 2030 - but "believes this situation will actually start this year - a full 13 years ahead of forecast".

Refreshingly, he doesn't pull any punches, claiming "at one of the South East's flagship airports, in August (peak holiday season) almost half of all flights were late"; "rail access to London airports is a joke"; and the airports operate "the UK's most expensive stretch of railway".

This column will be watching the outcome with interest.

Speaking of quick turnarounds at airports, your columnist had to be a human guinea pig in testing Emirates's claim that connections could be achieved in just an hour at Dubai International.

With a flight from Densapar Airport in Indonesia to Dubai worryingly late due to a bad technical fault, a two-and-a-half-hour connection before the last leg to Dublin suddenly turned into something of a scramble.

It's a nightmare scenario when your next flight is actually boarding as you're getting off your inbound flight. Given the fact that your arriving flight is parked as far away as possible from the terminal, then it's looking decidedly dicey. But security was swift, and your columnist even had time to buy a bit of Dubai-style duty free and still be on time for the last leg to Dublin.

Despite an eight-hour layover at Dubai International on the outward leg to the Far East, Dubai's police force weren't able to produce the goods for your columnist and show off their latest innovation - a Robocop. Thankfully unarmed, the robot can be used for members of the public to report crimes (or pay traffic fines), with the information relayed to its human masters.

Robocops are multilingual, and the city state reckons a quarter of its force will be lifeless and devoid of emotion by 2030.

It's the latest 'what will they think of next' idea from the United Arab Emirates with business travellers already looking forward to (or not) the idea of introducing pilotless drones that can transfer passengers by air, Jetsons-style, around the city.

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