Nonstop Port Columbus flight to London? It may happen

Steve Wartenberg, The Columbus Dispatch
The low operating costs of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which carries about 200 passengers, has made nonstop flights from London to cities the size of Columbus economically feasible.

August 29, 2014

It eventually may get a little easier to visit the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey and Harrods.

Officials of the Columbus Regional Airport Authority and Columbus 2020 went to London last week to meet with British Airways officials. The locals pitched Port Columbus as a new nonstop destination for the airline and returned home optimistic.

" We've been talking to British Air for many years, and they're now in a growth mode," said David Whitaker, the airport authority's vice president of business development.

British Airways added Austin, Texas, as a nonstop destination from London in March, using the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

"It's a real game-changer," Whitaker said of the Dreamliner. It carries about 200 passengers and is smaller and less expensive to operate than the aircraft it is replacing, he said. This has made nonstop flights from London to cities the size of Columbus economically feasible.

British Airways is expected to make a decision about adding direct flights from London to additional U.S. cities in the first half of 2015 and announce it later in the year, Whitaker said.

"The earliest the flights would be is the spring of 2016," he said.

Whitaker believes Columbus has a chance because "We are the fastest-growing city in the Midwest," and the support of Columbus 2020 and the business community it represents adds "a lot of value to our presentation."

Other cities in the mix are Indianapolis, Nashville, St. Louis and Cleveland, Whitaker said, adding, "I'd be surprised if they selected more than one."

When the Austin flight was announced, Lynne Embleton, the British Airways director of strategy, said the Dreamliner and Airbus A380 enable "us to start new routes and increase services to a number of destinations."

About 50 passengers fly out of Port Columbus daily with London as their final destination.

"Ideally, that number would be 70, and by 2016 we can visualize that number," Whitaker said.

Many of Port Columbus' business and leisure travelers could fly directly to London and then catch a connecting flight.

"Quite a few of our larger companies and Ohio State University are all users" of flights to London, said Kenny McDonald, chief economic officer of Columbus 2020. "And we have other international travelers going to other destinations, and London is a great gateway."

A nonstop London flight would have a positive economic effect on Columbus, he said.

"This type of flight is part of our economic-development strategy," McDonald said. "Columbus is a fast-growing and global city, and we think this is necessary to help our companies do business worldwide."