For Inverness’ global connectivity, we need Heathrow to expand

Written by Stewart Nicol, Inverness Chamber of Commerce on 30 November 2015 in Comment

Associate feature: Inverness Chamber of Commerce chief executive on the airport expansion debate

This month's announcement of a new route between Heathrow and Inverness is most welcome. For many years Inverness Chamber of Commerce has been at the forefront of the Highland campaign to have this vital air link re-established.

For us, this is about more than just an air route. A British Airways flight to Heathrow opens up over 125 onward connections to every continent in the globe. This isn’t just another route to London, this is a route through London to the rest of the world. As importantly, it is a direct route for the rest of the world into Inverness and the Highlands.

British Airways last flew to Inverness in 1997 and our last flight to Heathrow was flown by Bmi in 2008. Since then, the global recession has impacted on our region’s businesses, though perhaps to a lesser extent than elsewhere in Scotland? But the recurring theme amongst the Highland business community, from all sectors, is how much better things would be if we had a direct flight to Heathrow.

It isn’t difficult to see why. Being cut off from the UK’s hub has meant that employees of Inverness-based multinational firms like LifeScan and Capgemini have to drive to Aberdeen, Edinburgh or Glasgow to catch a flight to Heathrow and onto their global headquarters in New York and Paris. 

It has meant that some our most famous seafood producers can’t reach the high-paying restaurant tables of Shanghai and Singapore. It has meant that some of the most famous names in golf and the most beautiful coast line in Europe are out of reach for tourists from both established and emerging markets. 

Inverness increasingly competes with cities across Europe to attract firms that have clients and colleagues across the globe. The stark reality is that we can never be globally competitive if we aren’t globally connected. With a Heathrow link, we can be. 

That British Airways have returned after 18 years is an enormous vote of confidence in the potential of Inverness to grow. But for Inverness to reap the benefits of additional global connectivity, businesses need certainty that the route is here to stay. 

As chief executive of Inverness Chamber of Commerce, I will be working hard with the airline and both airports to ensure that the route becomes successful.

However, there remains an ongoing challenge. As long as Heathrow is full, airlines like British Airways are forced to choose between domestic routes to Inverness and more lucrative long haul routes to Asia and the Americas.  

As part of our consideration of the work of last year’s Airport Commission we engaged directly and comprehensively with both Gatwick and Heathrow airports before strongly endorsing a third runway at Heathrow as being the most advantageous for Inverness and Highland businesses. The scale of their ambitious plans were impressive as were the significant economic benefits for Scotland.

Therefore, for the long-term security of the route and for Inverness’ global connectivity, we need Heathrow to expand and we need securing domestic connections to an expanded hub to be at the centre of aviation policy from now onwards.

The airport expansion debate is not an issue for the South East of England alone. This is as much an issue for Inverness as it is for Isleworth.

Stewart Nicol is the chief executive of Inverness Chamber of Commerce

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