[LONDON] The owners of Manchester Airport plan to invest £1 billion (US$1.5 billion) over 10 years to upgrade Britain's third largest airport and help it compete harder with Heathrow for passengers.
Heathrow, Britain's biggest airport, is operating at full capacity and is vying with Gatwick for backing for expansion from a commission due to report this summer.
While London's two biggest airports await the outcome of the three-year commission, Manchester Airport, in north west England, has been expanding its long-haul routes, giving passengers an alternative to travelling south to Heathrow. "Over the next 10 years, the airport will continue to develop as a global gateway for the UK," Manchester Airport Group Chief Executive Charlie Cornish said on Tuesday.
Should it gain government backing, building of a new runway in the southeast would not be complete until the middle of the next decade, giving other airports in Britain a chance to add new flights as demand for air travel grows.
Manchester Airport grew passenger numbers by 6 per cent in its last financial year and expects to add another 5 per cent in the 2015-16 period. The £1 billion investment programme would ensure it can handle more flights and passengers.
The airport expansion also fits in with efforts by British Finance Minister George Osborne to improve road and rail links between northern English cities like Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds to create a conurbation with the scale and resources to compete with London. "All the research we've done is that passengers are looking to ideally travel from their local airport," Mr Cornish said.
He said the airport was bringing in more longhaul routes, including to the US and the Middle East, where airlines like Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways had added capacity in the last few years.
The investment, funded by a combination of improving cashflow and some additional debt, will involve expanding the main terminal building and improving another terminal, said the airport.
Manchester and Stansted, Britain's fourth largest airport, are part of Manchester Airport Group which is owned by an Australian pension fund and a group of regional councils around Manchester.