Birmingham airport has called on the government to abandon plans for a new runway at Heathrow and instead support a network of long-haul centres.
In its submission to the Davies Commission on airport capacity, the Midlands airport will outline plans that would give it a Heathrow-size operation handling 70m passengers a year.
It calls for “London, Birmingham and Manchester to all have the great long-haul airports that they need to succeed”, rather than the UK having just one hub in the southeast.
Paul Kehoe, Birmingham Airport’s chief executive, said: “We believe the best thing for UK aviation is to create a network of long-haul national airports, each supporting the comparative economic advantages of that region to boost trade, foreign investment and tourism.”
Birmingham airport has around 500,000 businesses in its catchment area, second only to Heathrow, at 600,000.
Many of them are high-value manufacturing companies exporting to long-haul destinations. It is estimated 3m business people from the Midlands travel via Heathrow each year.
Jerry Blackett, chief executive of Birmingham chamber of commerce, said the region needed better aviation links to support efforts to rebalance the economy towards trade and manufacturing. “It makes no sense for business people to traipse to London to travel to major markets overseas,” he added.
Capital Economics, the consultancy, calculates that Birmingham could serve up to 18m business passengers – second only to Heathrow – by 2032, when the HS2 high-speed rail line is scheduled for completion, with a station linking Birmingham airport to London and the north.
Mr Kehoe has run an aggressive lobbying campaign to have Birmingham’s voice heard in the debate on aviation capacity. The campaign deployed billboards on the approach roads to Heathrow warning the government “not to put all its eggs in one basket”.
However, Mr Kehoe has riled other regional airports with his contention that there is too much regional airport capacity. “Anybody listening to airports’ competing claims about their ‘catchment areas’ would be left with an impression that Britain had a population of more than 300m,” he said this year.
Sir Peter Rigby, owner of Coventry airport, which has plans to expand beyond freight to passenger traffic, said Birmingham’s ambitions should not be at the expense of other airports.
But he agreed that the Davies Commission must look beyond London and the southeast. “[The Heathrow debate] is so southeast-centric. It absolutely does not embrace the national picture.”