London's Stansted airport, best known as the biggest base of Ryanair, will achieve its long-held ambition of expanding into long-haul flights with a major carrier next year after Mideast giant Emirates announced the opening of a route to Dubai.
Emirates, the world’s largest intercontinental airline, will commence daily services from the Persian Gulf sheikdom to Stansted starting next June using Boeing Co. 777-300ER jetliners, it said in a statement Wednesday.
Stansted is London’s third-largest airport and the fourth-busiest in the U.K., but had previously failed to attract network carriers after becoming established as Europe’s top discount hub. Manchester Airports Group, which bought Stansted for 1.5 billion pounds ($2 billion) in 2013, stepped up its pitch by introducing perks such as valet parking, fast-track security and airport lounges.
Ken O’Toole, who runs Stansted, said the move by Emirates will provide a “crucial” boost for U.K. connectivity as the country prepares to leave the European Union. The airport, located 35 miles north of London, is attractive partly because its runway has plenty of room for more flights, unlike the capital’s capacity-constrained Heathrow and Gatwick hubs.
Stansted’s existing non-European offerings are limited to a handful of charter flights, with Nordic low-cost operator Primera planning to add routes to Boston, New York and Toronto also starting next year.
Emirates said it was attracted to Stansted by a catchment area that includes the technology and pharmaceutical hubs of Cambridge and Peterborough in eastern England and major operations at companies such as AstraZeneca Plc, GlaxoSmithKline and Airbus, which has a satellite factory in nearby Stevenage.
About 7.5 million people currently travel to eastbound long-haul destinations from the area using other departure points, Stansted estimates. The airport, which attracted 24 million passengers in 2016, an increase of almost 9 percent, will become the Gulf carrier’s seventh UK gateway, after Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle and Glasgow.