Former Gatwick CEO, Now Leading Dubai Airport: Heathrow’s Third Runway Holds the Key to Maintaining Its Global Dominance

March 19, 2024

The dynamics of competition among global airports for market dominance are changing, as highlighted by insights from Paul Griffiths, former head of Gatwick and current CEO of Dubai Airports.

Griffiths’ remarks, mainly directed at his former rival, London Heathrow, underscore the pivotal nature of the current period for the UK’s largest airport. Despite profits rebounding to pre-pandemic levels and a new CEO, Thomas Woldbye, taking the reins from the controversial John Holland-Kaye, uncertainties linger, especially regarding Heathrow’s long-awaited expansion plans.

In an interview with the Telegraph, Dubai Airport’s CEO emphasised that Heathrow has lost its prominence as a transfer hub due to capacity constraints. This challenge could be addressed with a third runway. Griffiths noted the prolonged political wrangling over Heathrow’s expansion plans, spanning five decades without substantial progress. Considering the tumultuous state of Britain’s infrastructure planning system and impending general election, Woldbye has yet to fully commit to the expansion proposals.

Delays and cost overruns plague infrastructure projects like HS2, the Lower Thames Crossing, and Hinkley Point C, casting doubts on Heathrow’s ambitious plans.

Heathrow’s proposal for a third runway faces similar challenges of cost escalation and environmental opposition, with contentious ideas such as rerouting a section of the busy M25 motorway drawing criticism. Amidst these challenges, Heathrow faces the dilemma of either losing its global hub status or embarking on a complex expansion project amidst infrastructure woes.

Recent reports suggest Heathrow is exploring scaled-down expansion options before committing to a third runway. Griffiths lamented the stifling effect of capacity constraints on the British economy, especially amidst new red tape introduced by the Home Office, potentially diverting passengers to overseas competitors.

Griffiths warned of the shifting landscape in the aviation industry, with emerging players like Qatar and Istanbul vying for market share aggressively. Despite Heathrow’s upwardly revised passenger forecasts, Dubai Airport anticipates surpassing 90 million passengers this year, while Istanbul aims for 200 million annually by 2027, signalling challenging times ahead for established hubs like Heathrow.