Direct flights between London and Yorkshire are to be restored after an 18-month interval in what some people regard as an encouraging move for the region's economy.
British Airways will run four services a day between Leeds Bradford and Heathrow from 9 December, ending a period of uncertainty that has seen the link broken twice in as many years.
Ticket sales opened on Wednesday with a single fare costing ?42. Andy Lord, BA's director of operations, who unveiled the link at Leeds Bradford, said the airline was sure that its network would not face the problems which led first BMI and then Flybe to withdraw from Leeds in 2009 and 2011.
But the move was condemned by environmental groups including Greenpeace, whose senior campaigner, Joss Garman, said: "You can hop on a train to do this journey. It's exactly these kind of short-haul flights, easily reachable by other less polluting ways to travel, which clog up Heathrow. The aviation lobbyists look as disjointed as the government's transport policy if they're going to applaud needless flights like this and then complain about Heathrow being full."
The new service follows BA's acquisition of BMI and its Heathrow landing and take-off slots in April and will see streamlined connection services aimed at the business and tourism sector. Travellers will be able to check in bags and get boarding cards at Leeds-Bradford for onward flights from London and timings will be linked to BA services to destinations including New York, Singapore, Johannesburg and Hong Kong.
Yorkshire pitched vigorously for the new link, one of three confirmed by BA with others introducing direct services between Heathrow and Rotterdam and Zagreb. Lord said: "This is our first new service to a regional airport for some years and it's a tribute to the persistence of Leeds Bradford and the case which people in Yorkshire and the Humber have made. It's also a welcome return to Yorkshire for British Airways and we are very excited about flying from this excellent, commercially important airport once again.
"Leeds Bradford has a significant catchment area and we are delighted to offer not only direct flights to London but a well timed schedule that will allow customers from this region to connect with our extensive short haul and long haul flights from Heathrow."
A report for BAA Airports from Oxford Economics last year underlined the importance of better air links to manufacturing and other businesses in Yorkshire and the Humber. It estimated that ?3.3bn of exports from the region annually depend on international flights and two-thirds of the foreign investors, who account for 11% of jobs, rely on air transport to reach their main markets.
The study also emphasised the importance of tourism to Yorkshire and the Humber and suggested that 3,800 jobs in the region depend directly on access to Heathrow. Overseas visitors spent ?417m in Yorkshire and the Humber in 2010 and 749,000 of the estimated 1,000,000 total arrived in the UK by air.
Mark Goldstone from Leeds Chamber of Commerce said: "This is a real issue for Leeds city region as we have dozens of members that trade with or aspire to do business with the likes of Brazil, India and China. To support trade and the city region's economy, it is vital for our firms to be able to make connections to these emerging markets."
Brian Dunsby of Harrogate Chamber of Trade & Commerce said: "We have been lobbying for a restoration of the scheduled service between Leeds Bradford and Heathrow ever since BMI withdrew the service in 2009.
"Whilst the East Coast trains from Leeds and York to Kings Cross are ideal for visits to central London, the onward connection to Heathrow can take more than an hour, which means that the new flights will be much more convenient – given an adequate flight schedule."
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