London Heathrow and Roissy Charles de Gaulle are the top two European airports with 77 and 69 million passengers respectively in 2017. But while Roissy was thought to be ready to surpass its English competitor, Heathrow has not said its last word.
A terminal for Roissy, a runway for Heathrow
The growth limit for each airport is not due to the same factors. Roissy has 4 runways and Heathrow only 2, which makes the performance of the London airport quite exceptional.
To grow, Roissy needed one more terminal and Heathrow needed one more runway. Knowing that it has been 70 years since a runway was built at Heathrow and that local residents are watching over it, many took for granted that the airport had reached the limits of its potential. On the other hand, there is still plenty of room at Roissy and the announcement of the construction of a fourth terminal by 2025, bringing the airport’s capacity to 120 million passengers, seemed to settle the question of European airport hegemony once and for all.
But, against all odds, the British government has just agreed to the construction of a third runway (subject to a vote by Parliament). With this third runway, Heathrow could welcome 135 million passengers per year.
Different challenges for national airlines
The evolution of the capacity of a major airport is not neutral with respect to the airline that has its main base there. Namely British Airways in London and Air France in Paris.
Heathrow being saturated, the increase in its capacity will of course benefit British Airways but above all its competitors, especially from the Gulf, as the British airline will no longer be able to lock up the airport as it did before?
The same cannot be said of Paris, which is already largely accessible to Air France’s competitors, where the main concern is Air France’s ability to generate traffic growth, a point on which the current context gives rise to legitimate doubts.
In any case, this is the last card up the sleeve of both airports. By 2050 they will both be saturated in their new configuration and the traffic growth will benefit third party airports, often in provincial areas.