Might Emirates Start UK-US Service?

Might US skies start to see more Emirates planes, and now traveling to/from the UK?
Might US skies start to see even more Emirates planes, and now traveling to/from the UK?

The airline market across the North Atlantic between the UK and US has been looking less and less competitive of late.  Most recently, Delta’s approval to buy half of Virgin Atlantic has tied up the last truly independent airline of any significance, Virgin Atlantic, which is now in bed with its new colossus Skyteam partner, Delta (and Delta’s other European partners such as Air France/KLM).

Can you name an airline – any airline – that is not affiliated with Skyteam, Oneworld or Star that has any measurable amount of service nonstop between the US and UK these days?

Well, as proclaimed by the headline, maybe there is one – uber-unaligned and massively successful Emirates.  Wow – that could definitely help open up the market.

Currently it seems that Emirates has rights to fly from the US via the UK to Dubai, and can also transport passengers on the US-UK part of those flights without requiring them to travel on to Dubai or somewhere further afield.  These rights apparently apply if the UK airport is one of a number of ‘secondary’ airports (if we consider Heathrow and arguably the other London airports to be the primary airports) which Emirates secured such permissions at many years ago (back when it was a small airline and the UK authorities never guessed at its future growth and success.

Emirates already has considerable capacity flying between Dubai and four secondary UK airports –  Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle and Glasgow, even an A380 as part of its three daily flights to Manchester.

What this means is that if Emirates extended its routes on from the UK and to US cities, it already has the UK/Dubai portion successfully covered.  It doesn’t need to now find Americans wanting to travel to Dubai, because those flights are already full; it just needs to find Americans and Brits wanting to fly across the North Atlantic.

But – don’t rule that out either.  If you draw grand circle paths between the US and Dubai, you’ll be interested to see how many times the route from a city in the US to Dubai involves travel very close to Britain.

Now for an amazing fact.  London is by far Britain’s largest city (9.8 million in the greater London area) with the second largest city (Manchester) mustering only 2.6 million in its urban metroplex – wait, that’s not the amazing fact!  We also know that Heathrow is the country’s largest airport (70 million passengers in 2012) followed by Gatwick (34 million) and only then Manchester at 20 million.

But – and here now is the amazing fact.  If you look at the ‘catchment area’ of people living within two hours of the airport. more people live within a two-hour drive of Manchester airport than live within two hours of Heathrow.  In other words, there’s a huge number of Brits who would find it more convenient to fly to the US out of MAN than out of LHR.

Furthermore, Manchester’s current passenger traffic of 20 million barely scratches the surface of its maximum capacity.  Whereas Heathrow is already at capacity and straining at the seams, Manchester could absorb another 30 million passengers a year, and has vacant land adjoining the airport for further expansion as may be needed.

The airport already serves 190 destinations worldwide, and for people starting or ending their journey at MAN, it has good rail and road connections and is also planned to be on the new High Speed Rail service going north from London, making it a not ridiculous place to arrive at even for people traveling to London.

It would seem that Emirates’ ability to offer service between the US and UK is limited primarily by its ability to then fly the planes on to Dubai and back.  It currently operates seven daily 777 flights and one daily A380 flight to these four secondary airports; if all eight of these flights were extended to the US, that is still only a drop in the bucket of the total traffic across the North Atlantic.

But if you’re dying of thirst in the desert, you’ll seize on any drop of water you can, in any bucket you can find.  Give us these extra eight flights, please, and doubtless (noting how Emirates are growing their UK/Dubai service at a massive rate) before long these eight flights will become 16, and while that is only as many as BA/AA fly between just New York (JFK and EWR) and London (LHR and LCY) alone, it starts to become a more measurable impact (and if we were Emirates, we’d probably spread our flights over some of the other cities in the US where we already have stations as well as just New York).  Plus if Emirates adds some more flights that have Americans flying on them all the way to Dubai, that would add still more capacity to the route, and so on.

Emirates currently operates flights from Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington (Dulles) as well as New York, giving it plenty of cities in which it already has a US presence to consider twinning with its secondary UK markets.

We’re not saying this is going to happen in the immediate future, and we’re not saying it will see airfares across the North Atlantic plunge if/when it does.  But we are saying it would definitely be a good thing, and we are saying we hope it transpires (hey, Emirates – pick Seattle, please!).

Some more detail and speculation here and here.

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