Stansted airport is making a play to become a hub for one or more long-haul airlines, with Ryanair feeding flights to America and Asia.
“Heathrow is full, Gatwick is pretty much full, if anyone wants to grow in London we’ve got the capacity to make that happen,” said Andrew Cowan, chief executive of the Essex airport.
He was speaking as Ryanair launched nine new or reinstated routes from Stansted to destinations in Europe this summer. Cities include Naples, Nice and Strasbourg.
Services on the Irish airline to some existing destinations in France, including Bordeaux and Dinard, will increase to daily departures.
The budget airline, Europe’s largest, is also switching some Copenhagen flights from Luton to Stansted. A vicious fares war with easyJet at Luton to the Danish capital has seen Ryanair cut fares to £9.99; with Air Passenger Duty (APD) at £13, that means the airline is flying each passenger at a loss.
Ryanair now serves 140 routes from the Essex airport. The airline’s chief commercial officer, David O’Brien, said: “It wouldn’t at all surprise me that several long-haul airlines would be interested in tapping into our European network [at Stansted]. It’s pretty blindingly obvious if you ask me.”
He confirmed that Ryanair is working with Norwegian to provide connections with the transatlantic network at Gatwick.
Stansted has long been a strictly point-to-point airport, with no baggage-transfer operation. But Mr O’Brien and Mr Cowan said that facilities would be provided for seamless transit, without the need for the passenger to collect their bag and check it in again.
The Essex airport has always struggled with long-haul flights. Two transatlantic business-class only airlines, Eos and MaxJet, both failed after brief stints serving Stansted. AirAsia began a service to Kuala Lumpur, but later moved it to Gatwick and then closed the route altogether.
Ryanair confirmed growth to and from the UK will slow this year because of the uncertainty brought about by the vote to leave the EU.
Mr O’Brien said expansion in Britain would fall from 15 per cent in 2016 to 7 per cent this year. He also said that if APD is cut in Scotland, then Edinburgh and Glasgow could benefit from new services at the expense of cities in the north of England.
Stansted has just reported record passenger numbers with 24.3 million passing through the airport in 2016. Its previous best was in 2007, with 23.8 million. The present rate corresponds to an average of one passenger every 1.3 seconds, right through the year.