Manchester: Emirates, Qatar Airways Ltd and Etihad, the biggest Arab carriers, are pouring capacity into the north English city of Manchester to win Asian traffic as British Airways funnels passengers via its crowded London Heathrow hub.
Emirates, the largest international carrier, said on March 9 it would add a third daily flight to Dubai from May 1 after existing services featuring an Airbus A380 superjumbo were consistently full.
The announcement came within days of Qatar and Etihad saying routes from Abu Dhabi and Doha would go double daily from August 1 and June 1, respectively.
British Airways scrapped long-haul flights from Manchester in 2008, opting to route people through Heathrow, Europe's busiest airport, on nine daily shuttles. The UK company says it has no plans to revise the model, even though 13 scheduled carriers including Delta Air Lines Inc, Continental Airlines and Singapore Airlines Ltd offer long-haul services from the airport, which claims a catchment of 20 million people.
"Our clients prefer flying from Manchester, so we're very pleased with the new routes," said Irene Hulme, who runs Travel by Design, a specialist in luxury trips to Australia, Asia and North America based in Alderley Edge, five miles from the airport. "People think twice about going via Heathrow. On some routes you can have a very long wait, which they find frustrating."
Manchester was the busiest British airport outside London in 2010, attracting 17.6 million passengers, or 8.4 per cent of the national total. That compares with 22 million in 2005, before the reduction in service by BA and UK rival British Midland or BMI, now owned by Deutsche Lufthansa AG. Heathrow handled 65.9 million passengers last year.
The airport, privately managed on behalf of its owners, the 10 boroughs of Greater Manchester county, estimates it will boost passenger numbers four per cent this year, Chief Executive Officer Charlie Cornish said in an interview last month.
The Gulf carriers are targeting northern England as part of a growth splurge aimed at challenging British Airways and other carriers specialising in long-distance transfer traffic.
Emirates is building up a fleet of 90 A380s with a total of 45,000 seats as it seeks to direct price-sensitive passengers through Dubai, while Qatar has orders for 178 jetliners worth $35 million and Etihad has 100.
Passengers have been lured by newer aircraft appearing on routes out of Manchester, Hulme of Travel by Design said.
Emirates and Etihad also offer first-class seats on flights from the city, and both have their own premium lounges there.
The superjumbo service from Manchester - the first in the world serving a regional city - has been a top performer for Emirates, with the 517-seat plane flying full within two months of its introduction in September, the company said when announcing the third daily trip, which will be operated by a 237-seat Airbus A330.
Etihad's addition of a second daily flight from August marks the ramp-up of an earlier plan to switch to 10 services a week, and Qatar Airways is adding capacity in Manchester as it terminates its service to London Gatwick, the secondary hub for British Airways, which has four daily shuttles there.
Emirates, which also operates to Dubai from Glasgow and Newcastle upon Tyne, said capacity growth at Manchester shows that flying via modern hubs in the Middle East has become an "attractive option" for European travellers.
"The addition of a third daily flight indicates strong regional demand, but also reflects our commitment to regional gateways," said Salem Obaidullah, the carrier's senior vice president for commercial operations in Europe and Russia.
Unlike British Airways, which is strongest on North Atlantic routes, the Gulf carriers are focused on faster-growing markets in Asia.
Qatar Airways said when announcing its extra Manchester frequency that the route taps demand from populations living in and around the city for travel via Doha to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.