People disembark from a Ryanair flight to board a bus at Stansted Airport in London. Emirates planes will also soon become a familiar sight at the airport that is better known for the budget end of the aviation business. (Reuters)
LONDON: The London airport best known for budget travel is targeting the big carriers of the Middle East for its next phase of growth.
A plan unveiled by Dubai-based Emirates last week to launch a new daily air service between the emirate and Stansted Airport from next June marks a breakthrough in the campaign by London's third airport to attract more long-haul carriers.
Best known as a base for Europe's short-haul budget airlines, Stansted will also see two low-cost carriers start trans-Atlantic services from the airport next year.
But the launch of Emirates' service to Dubai will greatly extend Stansted's global reach across the Middle and Far East and add to its appeal for business travelers, particularly those visiting the nearby Cambridge-Oxford high-tech corridor.
"It's a really strong development for Stansted," said air transport consultant John Strickland of JLS Consulting. "It puts them on the worldwide map with Emirates' direct access to the Gulf, Asia and Africa. It also reflects the growing strength of Stansted's business catchment area."
The new Emirates service also recognizes that with Heathrow and Gatwick airports operating close to capacity, Stansted is one of the few entry points to Britain's prosperous South East region where there is still scope for airlines to expand.
Emirates will operate its new three-class Boeing 777-300ER aircraft on the new service, largely outside the budget airlines' peak hours. Landing charges at London Stansted also tend to be significantly lower than at Heathrow.
Although it has a single runway, London Stansted currently handles around 26 million passengers a year but has planning permission to expand to 35 million and ambitions to grow to 43 million by the late 2020s.
Located some 39 miles north of the city in Essex and with a 47-minute express rail link to central London, Stansted is building a new £130 million ($175 million) arrivals terminal and a new £11 million aviation skills college.
As well as business travelers across north east London, Emirates' new service is targeting around 7.5 million people living in the Stansted catchment area who currently have to travel to Heathrow or Gatwick via central London or on the city's congested M25 outer ringroad.
According to the airline, Hong Kong, Dubai, Shanghai, Singapore and Mumbai are the most popular business destinations from the East of England which Emirates serves through Dubai.
At CAPA -- Center for Aviation, chief airports analyst David J. Bentley sees Emirates' new service from Stansted as very significant.
He said: "This service is long-haul, full-service and eastbound, killing three birds with one stone. And there is no reason why Emirates could not extend it into a Middle East-Europe-North America service as it has done selectively with other routes via Milan, Athens and Scandinavia though there is no evidence it will do that. It is also daily; business travelers do not like long-distance services that are less than daily."
For Middle Eastern travelers, the new service will provide a convenient entry point close to the Oxford-Cambridge corridor which is home to a cluster of "knowledge-based" tech businesses and where the UK government is targeting new infrastructure investment, including a rail link.
Emirates said that more than 25 of the world's largest corporations -- including Airbus, Astra Zeneca and GSK -- have operations in the wider Cambridge and Peterborough area, close to Stansted.
Laurie Berryman, who is responsible for Emirates' UK operations, said the service would also prove useful to the new startups and existing SMEs which form a growing section of the Cambridge business community.
Stansted's growing cargo operation will also be significant for the airline's freight division, Emirates SkyCargo. Rival carrier Etihad Cargo is now also operating from Stansted and this time last year used the airport to ship 72 racehorses from England to Kuwait for the winter.
Other airlines have also viewed Stansted as a gateway to the Middle East. Turkish carrier Atlasglobal launched a new daily flight from Stansted to Istanbul toward the end of 2016 which allows passengers to connect to onward flights to Dubai.
London Stansted's position in the long-haul sector should also benefit from the launch of other new services. From next April, Danish airline Primera Air will start offering daily flights from Stansted to New York'sNewark Airport and four times a week to Boston Logan in May using its Airbus A321 NEO aircraft. Primera Air is also launching a new direct service from Stansted to Toronto from next June.
Announcing these plans recently, London Stansted CEO Ken O'Toole said: "We have the ambition and runway capacity to enable us to offer more flights to more destinations across North America, the Middle East and further afield and satisfy the growing demand from businesses and passengers across the region to fly long-haul from their local airport."
Meanwhile, low-cost Iceland airline WOW air is also planning to launch a new service from Stansted to New York JFK via Reykjavik from next April with fares starting at £99 one way.
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