British Airways is to resume flights to the Highland city of Inverness in Scotland from its London Heathrow hub next summer, over 30 years since it last served the route. This is the second ‘new’ domestic destination the airline has introduced into its network in recent years after adding a link to Leeds Bradford Airport in Yorkshire in 2012.
The new domestic flight will operate on a daily basis from May 3, 2016 using an 143-seat Airbus A319 and will bring back key network connectivity via London for those travelling to and from the far North of Scotland. There will be just a single daily rotation departing London at 09:55 and connecting with the morning arrival wave in London. The 12:10 return flight although not ideal for day business travellers, will provide onward connectivity in London and support the leisure market.
“We are very pleased to be starting our new service to Inverness. As the capital of the Highlands, Inverness has a strong and diverse economy and has developed into a major centre for life sciences, commercialisation and research,” said Denize Mcgregor, Head of UK Customer Service and Operations, British Airways.
“British Airways’ daily flights will benefit the Inverness economy by linking the business community of the city and its environs with our global network, and help boost the area’s vital in-bound tourism sector by bringing even more visitors to this beautiful and historic city, with its unique environment, scenery and culture,” she added.
The UK carrier had been synonymous with developments at Inverness Airport and its introduction of jet services in the 1970s led to significant improvements to the infrastructure. In 1974, the main runway was extended to handle the British flag carrier’s BAC One-Elevens, and in 1979 a major expansion of the terminal was completed to meet the upturn in demand.
British Airways first launched flights between London Heathrow and Inverness on November 19, 1968 and Highland communities had come to rely heavily on the service which provided one-stop links to over 130 scheduled destinations throughout the world. Senior executives at Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), the local economic and community development organisation, describe such hub routes as crucially important, not only to the economy of Inverness but to the whole of the Highlands.
The airport suffered a setback in 1983 when British Airways suspended the London-Inverness service due, according to the carrier, to “commercial reasons”. Fortunately, the gap was filled almost immediately by Dan-Air, which launched its own operations on the route.
The flight passed back to the British flag carrier when it acquired Dan-Air in 1992, though it was then flown from Gatwick, rather than Heathrow, owing to the pressure on slots at the latter. Flybe inherited it when it acquired BA CitiExpress, but has since suspended the route and a short-lived London City operation it introduced last year, with London currently only linked to Inverness by the flights of easyJet from Luton (introduced in November 1996) and Gatwick (added in February 2003).
The London Heathrow – Inverness market was last served in the mid 2000s as bmi British Midland resurrected the connection in March 2004, although it closed the route in 2008, using the slots at the London airport more lucratively by introducing new medium-haul international connections ahead of its later acquisition by British Airways in 2012.
“We are delighted to welcome British Airways back to Inverness Airport. This is a significant achievement for the airport,” said Inglis Lyon, Managing Director of Inverness Airport operator, HIAL. “Through our efforts, and with the support of our partners, Inverness Airport has done what few other regional airports have achieved in recent years, attracting one of the world’s leading airlines and securing access to the UK’s hub airport at the same time.”
Although flybe currently provides Inverness with a hub link via the KLM network from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, the new London route will be particularly important for Scottish businesses looking for improved access to global markets and will open up new economic opportunities for the Highlands region and potential inward investment. It will also provide a major fillip boost for local tourism, making it even easier for visitors to get to the Highlands, a market particularly popular with overseas travellers from markets such as Germany and the United States.
According to Sabre data, an estimated 55,000 bi-directional passengers flew internationally to and from Inverness last year with the United States, the Philippines, Canada, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Australia the largest long-haul markets. The US market accounts for around 12 passengers per day from/to Inverness, around 8.6 per cent of total international traffic and the largest unserved country market.