Air Transport World

The unlocking of Heathrow; cancellation of time-distribution rules at London's main airport should help it stay the world's busiest.

London-although it is saturated with traffic at peak periods, its four passenger terminals sometimes are uncomfortably overcrowded and interlining can be like an obstacle course, the world's airlines continue to stand in line to be allowed to use Heathrow, London's main airport. Space at Gatwick, the second airport, is available, while Stansted, London's No. 3 facility, has a brand-new $640 million terminal building that was opened by the Queen last spring, which hardly anybody uses. But despite these alternative accommodations, almost everybody-from small regionals such as Brymon through European nationals such as Iberia, which threatened court action a few years ago when a move was made to force it to move from Heathrow to Gatwick, to the major intercontinentals-british Airways, American Airlines, United Airlines, Cathay Pacific and AH Nippon Airways want to buzz around the Heathrow honeypot.

Why should this be? Reason No. I is that despite the problems produced by the fact that three of the four Heathrow terminals stand on an island that must be approached through a tunnel beneath the runways, while the fourth is located in splendid isolation on the southern perimeter, Heathrow continues to be the busiest international airport in the world, a giant interlining crossroad, used by 70 airlines with services to some 200 destinations worldwide.

Geographically, the airport is superbly placed, on the eastern edge of the Atlantic and on the western edge of Europe, where the air-transport industry is undergoing liberalization, albeit slowly and painfully. At the same time, Heathrow enjoys traditional air-route links with the countries of the old British Empire: South Africa, India, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand among them.

Reason No. 2 for Heathrow's eternal popularity is that London continues to be one of the world's great business and financial centers and to the chagrin of many of its residents a foremost sightseeing attraction, a jumping-off point for myriad tourists who want to "do" Buckingham Palace, the Oxford Street shops and Windsor Castle before hopping on to Paris and Rome.

Reason No. 3 why the airlines continue to love glamorous but battered old Heathrow--and this applies particularly to British Airways--is that they have an enormous investment there, laid down over the past 40 years, in bricks and mortar, embracing engineering bases, motor-transport depots, catering kitchens, crew-reporting centers, headquarters buildings and training/simulator complexes.

All of these pressures boiled over during the past summer when Heathrow, which had been closed for decades to newcomer airlines, was opened up suddenly, the result of a radical change of aviation policy by the U.K. government.

The policy shift allowed the two largest U.S. carriers, American and United, into the airport following buyouts of the transatlantic routes of TWA and Pan Am respectively. …

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