20 January 2012

Manchester as an air hub?

To provide facilities to their passenger bases Air France and Lufthansa offer more and more services from Manchester into their main hubs. Especially now that there are large airline alliances these hubs include airports in different countries.

Lufthansa, in the Star Alliance; has for many years been promoting Munich as a second hub and, no doubt, will do the same at Berlin when the new airport opens at Brandenburg in 2012. Its subsidiary airlines Swiss (Zürich), Austrian (Vienna) and Brussels Airlines (Brussels) provide more hubs for regional markets and directed at specific areas - e.g. Brussels concentrates on Africa. Alliance partners SAS covers Scandinavia and the Far East from Copenhagen while TAP´s principal routes are to Africa and Brazil from Lisbon.

Air France, in the Skyteam alliance, has for many years had two airports in Paris with Orly and Le Bourget, the latter being later superceded by Charles-de-Gaulle at Roissy. Now there are to be substantial increases in flights from the regions at Bordeaux, Nice and Marseille, to add to the already operating hubs at Toulouse and Lyon. Air France´s other half, KLM, has a major hub at Amsterdam. However, the group´s cost cutting measures announced 13th January 2012  mean that some of the expansion will be put on hold or even cancelled.

Alitalia, also Skyteam, has always had two focuses for travel with Rome (Ciampino and Fiumicino) and Milan (Linate and Malpensa). 

The oneworld Alliance has British Airways and Iberia (in the IAG group) as its two large European airlines. Iberia´s base is Madrid (which will shortly accomodate its "low cost" subsidiary Iberia Express)  Affiliate airline "low cost" Vueling is based in Barcelona Prat but has already set up bases in Toulouse and Amsterdam. Iberia Regional - Air Nostrum is based in Valencia. Air Berlin(soon to join oneworld) has a large base in Palma de Mallorca.

Another important member of oneworld  is Finnair which flies out of Helsinki with the fastest connections to South Asia and the Far East. Air Berlin is concentrating on using Berlin Brandenburg and Düsseldorf as its hubs in Germany. Its subsidiaries Niki flies from Vienna while Belair flies from Zürich.

The BA side of IAG concentrates on London Heathrow Gatwick and City airports but nowhere else.

Now that the British government has ruled out a third runway at Heathrow airport BA has decided it has to look elsewhere to expand including, but not exclusively, its partner´s (Iberia, in IAG) base in Madrid.

There is an important point to consider. It is extremely difficult for an airline identified with a specific country, as all the legacy airlines are, to set up services in a foreign country to fly to a third. When airline services across the Atlantic were liberalised a few years ago just two attempts were made. On the agreement coming into effect Air France set up a direct flight from London Heathrow to Los Angeles. This did not last long and was subsequently withdrawn.
The other attempt was by BA itself. It set up an all business airline called Open Skies (taking over a good French one in the process, called L´Avion) based at Paris Orly. It is still flying, just, but changed its COE in 2011. There were attempts to instigate services from Amsterdam to New York, which was abandoned, and later from Orly to Washington DC, also abandoned. Now it concentrates its services (twice daily) at Newark. You would expect businessmen to be less chauvinistic than other passengers, just looking for good service at reasonable prices. However, the project has not been the runaway success it expected.

If that is the case with a specialized airline, what are the chances for BA outside Great Britain? 

If BA, thus, has its chances of expansion reduced abroad should it not look again to its home market? In this case there are five possibilities. Three are based on the component countries of the United Kingdom. Cardiff is too near London - the journey time from Cardiff to London Paddington by train is 2hrs. 5 mins. which will be reduced further by upcoming electrification of the line. Belfast, even though being on the other side of the  Irish Sea only produces nearly 7.1 million ppa. (including the two Belfast and City of Derry airports).

Scotland is a possibility to provide a base. However, here traffic is divided between Edinburgh 8.6 million ppa. and Glasgow (Abbotsinch and Prestwick) 8.2 million ppa. It should be noted that all these figures quoted are from the UK Civil Aviation Authority for 2010.
Though it is attractive to fly into/from either of these cities it should be remembered that the effective population served lies in the central belt from Glasgow to Edinburgh which is reduced. The population of the WHOLE of Scotland is estimated  in 2010 to be 5.22 million. Though the country might provide numbers for international services, they are not really enough to justify a full international hub airport.

We are, thus, reduced to Birmingham and Manchester. While the former produced 8.57 million passengers through its airport in 2010 the latter produced 17.76 million passengers. Even if we consider the nearby airports to justify a hub, Manchester wins hands down. Birmingham can really only count on the traffic from East Midlands (4.11 million) and Bristol (5.75 million). To make a fair comparison Manchester would count on Liverpool (5.01 million) and Leeds/Bradford(2.76 million). Such comparisons are not strictly true as a lot of the passengers mentioned are leisure ones (sand and snow) who are really interested in travelling from their local airports to their fun destinations and not from an airport further away. However, the numbers do give an indication of traffic from a region. Birmingham is probably too close to London (about 100 miles) to generate a need to compete with the capital´s airports while Manchester is about double the distance. We should mention that in Manchester´s catchment area we have not included Blackpool (0.235 million), Humberside (0.283 million) nor Doncaster(0.876 million). The numbers sing their own praises. There is a greater demand for air transport from Manchester than from Birmingham.

I have heard it said that Manchester cannot justify long haul international flights as its population is only 500,000. This is like saying that the Cities of London and Westminster cannot justify having international airports for the same reason - lack of population. This is,of course, rubbish. Manchester airport, itself, is owned by all the 10 metropolitan boroughs in the Metropolitan county of Greater Manchester which has a population of 2.63 million.

However, one should not consider just the Metropolitan County. For long haul traffic Manchester airport can include in its catchment area, Cheshire (the airport already lies partly in the county) (1 million), Merseyside (1.37 million), Lancashire (1.45 million), West Yorkshire (2.16 million) and South Yorkshire(1.3 million). If you include the non-mentioned near and adjacent areas of Humberside, northern Derbyshire, the Potteries, Shropshire and North Wales then the catchment area easily passes the 11 million mark. This means the potential population is on a par with London, Paris and New York. These are more than enough reasons to consider the possibility of Manchester becoming a hub airport.

How many airports in Britain have two runways? The only ones of any importance are London Heathrow, Glasgow Prestwick,  Edinburgh and Manchester.  How many airports in Britain have two parallel runways? Only two - London Heathrow and Manchester International (originally known as Ringway).

Therefore, what other points are in favour of Manchester becoming a second hub airport? In some respects it is already but mainly as a feeder airport to others.The vast majority of flights already go to the big hubs. The Persian Gulf airlines of Doha(Qatar)(though these will be reduced in 2012 to 10 pw.), Abu Dhabi(Etihad) and Dubai(Emirates) already provide two or three daily connections each - some with the massive A380. The other hub airports in Europe, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris are well served by KLM, Lufthansa and Air France (together with their respective codeshare partners) with about five daily connections each. BA tries to funnel all its passengers through Heathrow offering 10 daily flights (and another 4 daily to Gatwick)

But what are the traffic patterns? As we have already said the main movements are to London, the three biggest European hub airports (Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Paris Charles-de-Gaulle) plus the Gulf airports of Doha, Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Transport connections:
Does Manchester have local transport connections to/from the airport? These are already in place.

There is a direct rail connection to Manchester Piccadilly and onwards to Preston and Scotland, as well as Leeds, York and Newcastle(to the north east), and Sheffield(to the south east). There are lots of local train services available. Thus the train services are well developed and can be considered to be better than those at the London airports. 
Fastest Times from Manchester airport to:
Leeds       1hr. 16 mins.   
Sheffield   1hr. 13 mins.
Liverpool  1 hr.  7 mins.
Preston            55 mins.
These times are at present using diesel traction. Obviously, when the lines to Leeds and York, Liverpool, Preston and Blackpool are electrified, in the next few years, then line speeds will be greatly improved making rail a much more attractive means of transport.                               
The Metrolink tram services from Manchester and district will be completed in 2016. These will be offering services every 12 mins. from Chorlton and Central Manchester.
Long distance coach services serve the airport to many destinations to the four points of the compass.Local buses provide a well organised network to / from the airport.

Roads: the M56 runs next to the airport which gives direct connection from Manchester to Chester and North Wales and the M6 (north -south artery) while it also joins the M60 circular motorway round Manchester which leads to the M62 and its connections to West Yorkshire and Liverpool.

In a sentence the airport has two runways, a rail station connecting to points other than only Manchester, and flights to over 190 worldwide destinations.

What is missing is an airline, be it BA, Virgin Atlantic or any other which decides it can make a profit flying out on long haul destinations from the airport.

BA dropped its transatlantic flights some time ago, while it sold its European connections(BA Connect) to Flybe. BMI (now being bought by BA) flew transatlantic to New York(?)  and Chicago for a few years but finally gave up.

Virgin Atlantic still flies three long-haul routes, but only to leisure destinations, Orlando, Barbados and Las Vegas. 

Other long-haul routes are flown by .....
American Airlines(AA) (New York JFK and Chicago), 
United Continental (Newark and Washington DC), 
US Airways (Philadelphia and on to Orlando), 
Delta (Atlanta), 
Singapore Airlines, Singapore  
Biman Bangladesh (Dhakar), 
PIA (Islamabad and Lahore)
Air Transat (Calgary, Toronto and Vancouver)

while the charter airlines fly to a variety of destinations
Thomson(Cape Verde Islands , the Maldives, Florida and the Caribbean)
Thomas Cook(Florida, the Caribbean, the USA, India, Africa etc.)
Monarch (Florida, the Caribbean, India and Africa)
and these are not counting the airlines and the destinations in Europe and the Mediterranean region.

The best bet  for expansion is with the three large airline alliances (Star Alliance, Skyteam or oneworld), Aer Lingus or Virgin Atlantic without looking at the already mentioned three Gulf airlines Etihad, Qatar and Emirates.  

The three Gulf airlines have been already mentioned, flying to each of their destinations up to three times daily for onward connections, through their home bases, to Asia, the Far East and Australasia. 

The Skyteam alliance (Air France and KLM plus Delta) already fly from Manchester to their hubs in Europe (Paris and Amsterdam) and the USA (Atlanta). The missing airline here is Alitalia.

The Star Alliance is dominated by Lufthansa which flies 5 times daily to Frankfurt, but also (itself or through its subsidiary Germanwings) to Cologne, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Munich and Stuttgart. Swiss flies to Basel and Zürich, while SAS flies to Copenhagen, Stockholm and Oslo. The US airlines United and US Airways  fly to their hubs at Newark and Washington, and Philadelphia. Eastwards Singapore Airways flies to its home base through Munich. The major Star Alliance European airlines are all represented flying to their home bases.

All these flights serve, of course, the interests of the members of those two Alliances.
oneworld provides connections to Europe through its services with Finnair (Helsinki for the Far East) and BA SunAir (affiliate) to Billund(Denmark). Its US partner American Airlines flies to its hubs at Chicago and New York JFK.  The BA Connect flights to Europe were sold to Flybe in 2007 for a 15% stake in the company. The problem resides in the fact that Flybe provides connecting services for Air France as well as BA. What remains are codeshare flights, with Flybe, but only from Manchester to Milan, Hannover and Düsseldorf - not a lot of baggage. Iberia has also restarted flights to Madrid after an absence of a few years.  In short the oneworld alliance provides very little service at all.

What could be done
As has been said before there are various possibilities , but let us start with oneworld (meaning British Airways). Before we think about any expansion of services by BA we have to ensure that the possibilities of connections for a greater number of passengers into and out from M/C to/from Europe  are maximalised.  

Firstly, BA´s affiliate SunAir should work harder to provide connections from Copenhagen, Oslo, Gothenburg and Stockholm, with Hamburg as a possible addition, as well as the present Billund. 

If Flybe is BA´s associate airline (with its 15% shareholding) then Flybe´s flights to Brussels, Paris CDG and other French destinations should be BA codeshares to also provide input. Its other German destinations of Frankfurt and Stuttgart and possibly Hamburg and Berlin could provide input services. Amsterdam, Geneva and other Italian cities(unserved at present) could provide connections also. In fact all Flybe flights could codeshare with BA. Flybe has an extensive network from Manchester to 12 British Isles destinations - all with the possibility of providing codeshare routes. BA only flies to Heathrow and Gatwick.

BA´s takeover of BMI means competition is being taken out of the market. However, BMI´s three routes from M/C (to Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Heathrow ) are run by BMI Regional which BA does not want - more than likely the competition authorities would force BA to sell this unit anyway.
In the article by Reuters "BMI facing breakup in battle for Heathrow"(18 October 2011) part of the problem is explained. In this article on the BBC "A New Scottish Airline" (25 October 2011) they give a hint as to possible buyers of BMI Regional. The first poster on this BusinessTraveller Forum "bmi Regional to be sold" (28 October 2011) gives some more insight to the solution for the company.

However, BA has everything going for it, if it wants. It can use codeshares with its associate airline Flybe, or with its franchisee, BA SunAir, or with its oneworld partners,Iberia, Finnair and Air Berlin. That way the feed into a long-haul network is assured.

Around which destinations would a long haul network be established? AA already flies to New York JFK and Chicago. Flights to Delhi and Mumbai would connect to the Kingfisher network while providing for the British Indian population travelling to the subcontinent. Hong Kong (Cathay Pacific and Qantas), Tokyo (JAL), Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), Singapore and Bangkok(Qantas) Moscow (S7) are all obvious choices, immediately or mid-term, to connect to oneworld partners. 

But which of the oneworld partners should provide the connection?Obviously, if each and every airline mentioned in the previous paragraph flew into Manchester, then BA would not have the need to provide such flights, just codeshare. We know that is not going to happen. For an airline to establish a presence at a destination its incurrs a great expense. Not least is the need to have personnel (ground and flight crew) away from their home base. That is the reason that BA found operations at Manchester too expensive in the past.  If, however, a critical mass were found that made operations from Manchester viable with locally based crew - be them short, medium or long haul - then we are sure that operations could more than viable. In fact the recent labour problems with crew have been to ensure that there is enough flexibility to assign them to short or long haul operations - the so called "mixed crew". This means that the possibilities for BA to establish operations at Manchester from now on are greatly enhanced - if it wants. This would be in contrast to the operations before from Manchester when everything was run from London (including the crews), meaning overnight expenses at least.

Virgin Atlantic(VAt) is another airline with the possibility of opening more operations from Manchester. It has an established network in North America (including the Caribbean), Africa and Asia. Establishing extra flights to distant destinations means very little extra expense as it already has the personnel at the distant airport and country. In fact, more flights would help economies of scale. "Joining the dots" as this is called is a favourite tactic of the "low cost" operators to expand at minimal cost.

Since VAt flies mostly across the Atlantic it could easily connect to Virgin America (VAm) via New York (JFK), Boston, Washington D.C., Chicago,  Orlando, San Francisco, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles. Other destinations such as Miami and Cancun offer more possibilities as do others in the Caribbean. If VAt joined the Star Alliance (a distinct possibility) then with its partners such as South African, United Continental, US Airways,Air Canada, Singapore, ANA, already operating from VAt destinations then the possibilities are opened wide. 

The sticking point is Europe. The Star Alliance destinations offered into Manchester are quite extensive but would the partners agree to a downgrade in the number of passengers through their own hubs? I think they would be very reticent. The takeover of BMI by BA also worsens things for Virgin Atlantic. As its feed partner it will be left with no connections, so no infeed of passengers. 

The conclusion is that VAt would have to sort out its European connections so as to provide sufficient input to its intercontinental flights so as to make them viable.

The third possibility mentioned is Aer Lingus. In the 1960s, with the introduction of jet aircraft, Aer Lingus developed a feeder network from Continental Europe to Dublin via Manchester. this way Manchester had its first jet connections with mainland Europe in competition with British European Airways(BEA) as BA then was. This was very successful for the airline and with the public.

The services now on offer through Dublin westwards are to New York JFK, Boston and Chicago - all with a strong Irish diaspora. From its bases in Ireland it looks eastwards and southwards more to the leisure market destinations, like a charter airline. This where Aer Lingus can perhaps increase its presence. It did try flying to Dubai for a time (some months?) but that was not so successful so it pulled out.

We know that Aer Lingus is looking again at joining an airline alliance. However, with whom is not clear. Previously it was in oneworld but its return is no done deal as yet. Here maybe Virgin Atlantic can gain something for mutual benefit. Aer Lingus already has the short haul European network which maybe could be extended into Manchester. VAt already has its own long haul destinations and through them its connections to its Virgin relatives America and Australia(VAu). Is there not a marriage in the making, especially if you consider VAt ´s major shareholder,  Singapore(SIA) and VAu´s  partner Etihad?

What additional flights could be offered from Manchester? Though VAt ´s flights from the airport are leisure destinations what any interested party wants, whether it be VAt or BA or whoever, are flights with a strong element of business interest. This way the likelyhood of making money through Business Class sales is much greater and much more appealing. "Routesonline" has a list of "unserved" and "underserved" routes from Manchester, which appear to have been last updated in February 2009, while the news was last updated in May 2010. In the Routes TV section there is an interview with two Aviation Sales Directors from Manchester airport who talk about plans for expansion globally. Now it just needs some airline to take up the challenge. That way the pressure on the South East of England can be reduced.

13 January 2012

How to turn to our advantage the five present London airports.

Whether you consider the building of a new airport in the Thames estuary a folly or not does not answer the question about how the existing London airports - Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton and City would function. If an Estuary airport were ever built these airports will not close - or at most City will have to close (together with Southend) as mentioned in the previous blog of 31/12/11. The need for new runways in the South East is apparent and will remain so whether or not a new airport is built. In fact the call for new runways is ceaseless as illustrated in this article in ABTN (10 January 2012). Therefore, what is needed is to use the assets we have.

London has a large number of airports in comparison to other cities or countries. Amsterdam has Schiphol while the others of note are Rotterdam and Eindhoven. Paris has Charles-de-Gaulle but still uses Orly while Beauvais is some distance away from Paris. New York has JFK and La Guardia together with Newark in New Jersey. Tokyo has Haneda and Narita.  New York and Tokyo together with London are known as the three busiest airport systems in the world with over 100 million passengers per annum. The list goes on but none has as many airports as London (to our knowledge). This, however, can be to our advantage - five airports instead of one massive one.

Why so many?
The role of each of the five airports is different. This is important to note as they are used both as international airports as well as local regional airports..

Heathrow is the International hub for London and Great Britain because it has grown into that role. Everybody (the airlines) wants to fly into it. It had the most international connections of any airport in the world so any connecting passengers wanted to fly into Heathrow. Now, because Heathrow is effectively full, that is not so true since Frankfurt, Paris and Amsterdam have caught up. The others now offer more international connections - but not necessarily with as many seats (per week) on offer. But even that could change.Traffic (2010 in each case) 65.9 million passengers per annum (ppa)(thanks to the UK Civil Aviation Authority - CAA).

City is the businessman´s airport. Principally for people working in the City of London financial district together with Docklands this airport is the most convenient for the most important domestic and European business destinations as well as some leisure(snow and sand) destinations. It also offers two flights daily to New York JFK(except Saturdays). Traffic 2.8 million ppa.

Gatwick was the original airport for charter flights but its role has changed and is still changing. There are still a lot of charter flights and holiday flights in general. Both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic use the airport for their leisure destinations. However, now the new owners are trying to attract more airlines to longer distance destinations such as Vietnam(Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh), China(Hong Kong and Beijing) and Korea. This is part of a strategy to increase the offers for businessmen. The biggest operator at the airport, Easyjet, has many business destinations not just leisure ones. Other big "low cost carrier" airlines are Ryanair and Norwegian.  Traffic 31.4 million ppa.

Stansted also has Easyjet as a large operator at the airport. The Irish airline Ryanair has its largest London base at the airport while other "low cost carrier" (LCC )airlines use it. It serves Europe, some of North Africa and the Canary Islands. Traffic 18.6 million ppa.

Luton is the smallest of the airports but also deals with several LCC airlines including Easyjet (it has its headquarters here), Ryanair, and Wizz. Traffic 8.7 million ppa.

That makes for a grand total of 127.35 million passengers to/from the London airports in 2010. This is down 9% from 2007 when numbers peaked at 139.95 million  LHR 68 million ppa.  LCY 2.9 million ppa.  LGW 35.2 million ppa.  STN  23.8 million ppa.  LTN 9.9 million ppa.

Here it can be seen that BA(as well as from LCY) and Virgin Atlantic operate into/from two large airports while Easyjet and Ryanair operate into /from the three largest airports excluding Heathrow. In fact Easyjet has just made Southend a base to add to its capacity in the South East.The reason for this is that they consider these airports as local as well as being London airports.The catchment area is well within the reach of their customers. Such is the case that EL AL (the Israeli airline) flies from Luton as well as from Heathrow so that it can catch its clientele from north London. Other big operators at the airports are Thomson, Monarch and Thomas Cook.
But what about present capacity?
BAA reported on 12th January 2012 that Heathrow in 2011 operated at 99.2%  of its 480,000 annual flight movements given capacity. If its movements` limitations were modified it could accomodate more flights but not too many. The solution at present is to increase the size of aircraft used so each would carry more passengers. This would not be to the satisfaction of the residents under the flight paths.  

CTY is limited by agreements over movements at the weekends so that residents are not disturbed on Saturday afternoons and Sundays. Its estimated capacity is 5 million ppa. but this depends on aircraft movements.

LGW from a one runway airport is estimated to be operating at 95% capacity. STN is permitted to operate at 264.000 flights per annum and is estimated to have a capacity of 35 million ppa. but is close to capacity at the busiest times  - early and mid morning with late afternoon. LTN has an estimated capacity of 10 million ppa. but this could be increased with better facilities.

This data is thanks to the document prepared by the Greater London Authority "A New Airport For London" January 2011
What is the answer?
Obviously the assets must be sweated but that is only a short term solution and the airport slots  are not necessarily available at the times needed. 

This blogger has proposed freeing up the airports from limitations to decide if they want to increase the numbers of runways or not.That way Heathrow could have three runways while Gatwick, Stansted and Luton would have to argue their cases to provide a second (or more) runway according to needs and market demands - paid for by the interested parties and not the taxpayer.That would increase capacity greatly, even doubling the present capacity, more than enough to satisfy demand through the 21st Century.

The London airports have been badly served by public transport for a long time. Gatwick was the first to have a direct connection to London Victoria  rail station but it took Heathrow until December 1977 till it got its UNDERGROUND connection. Now we have the Heathrow Express non-stop into Paddington. Stansted has the Stansted Express into the airport from Liverpool Street station. Luton has rail services from St. Pancras to Luton Airport Parkway(from where a bus connection is needed to the airport) while City airport is served by DLR services to a adjacent station.

However, the thoughts have always focused on connections to Central London. The error of this is shown to be blatant whenever somebody wishes to travel anywhere else than Central London.

There are still (frequent) bus services from Heathrow to Reading, Guildford and Gatwick. Airtrack was proposed to connect Terminal 5 with Reading, Guildford and Waterloo with dedicated rail services but was later dropped. Now two ideas have emerged to connect Heathrow  T5 with Reading (via the GWML) and Gatwick (a new fast line) called Heathwick (an awful name) Neither is connected to the other, they are badly thought out but at least they are a step in the right direction.

The Gatwick Express now starts ( at least for rush hour journeys) from Brighton so also serves the south coast area. Now and in the future there will be ever more Thameslink services from the south coast through Gatwick and Central London to Luton and Bedford (as well as elsewhere). There are no plans to alter the rail services to Stansted airport.

Crossrail will be a new line through Central London (West to East). One branch will enter Heathrow to replace the Heathrow Connect services which will continue out to City airport and on to Abbey Wood.

The problem is that the services on offer and planned are no way sufficient to take advantage of the airports and the potential they hold. You have to be able to connect from one airport to another while being able to connect to other lines, meaning sources of custom. All this would facilitate usage of the transport systems while not clogging up the centre of London.Let us look at what can be done to connect the airports better.

With Crossrail City airport will be connected to Central London with fast services and out to Paddington and Heathrow. A one stop change at Farringdon will enable connections to Thameslink services to  Luton and Gatwick airports, and onwards. What is needed (already taken into consideration but not affected) is the extension from Abbey Wood to Ebbsfleet. That way Eurostar European services can be connected to as well as Southeastern´s fast services to the Kent coast.

As already said the Gatwick Express runs from Brighton through Gatwick to Victoria. Thameslink services run from Brighton through Gatwick to London Bridge, St.Pancras (Eurostar) /Kings Cross(ECML) and on to Luton and Bedford. Here if a connection were built from Luton Parkway through the airport to Stevenage, then a service could run along the MML from St.Pancras to Luton Parkway and Luton airport(with a stop at West Hampstead to connect to the Underground system) and return along the ECML to Stevenage and Kings Cross(stopping at Finsbury Park for the Underground) (and vice versa). Connectivity outside London is then served better. The point of departure could be the said London termini but also even further south (Gatwick or Brighton)

The best possibilities for improvement are on the Heathrow, Central London  Stansted axis. At the moment the Heathrow Express is owned and run by BAA. It goes from T5 to the Central Area (T1 and T3) at Heathrow and on to Paddington non-stop. If a third runway were built then a new station could be built(without any problem and little disruption) at Terminal 6 (to serve the third runway) on the way to Paddington.
The Stansted Express forms part of the East Anglia franchise running from the airport to Liverpool St. station with a stop at Tottenham Hale to connect to the Underground system.

To combine the two services to make it a Heathrow - Stansted Express is totally logical as each runs 4 services per hour.
The problems lies in the fact that there are three companies involved, BAA, National Express East Anglia and Crossrail.  However, that should not be an insuperable obstacle if the three are flexible and the government is prepared to bang some heads together when necessary. If the H- S Express were set up then the running pattern could be the same from Heathrow to Paddington(non-stop), then picking up /setting down passengers in Central London, connecting to Thameslink (for Gatwick and Luton) at Farringdon then on to Liverpool St., out to Stratford (for Eurostar and Underground) and non-stop to Stansted. (of course all the central London stops connect with the Underground). This would then be a truely connecting service from end to end with everything in between.

It does not stop there, however. As already mentioned ideas have been floated about a connection to the GWML and on to Reading from Heathrow. A seperate idea was a new fast line from Heathrow to Gatwick. The bad thing was the ideas were not thought through. Both ideas are good in isolation but extremely better if combined. 
This blogger´s thoughts on these ideas were expounded in two bloggs in October 2011. 
"Reading - Heathrow Rail Connection" 6 October  and
"Heathrow - Gatwick Rail link" 11 October  as well as previously
 "Luton - the Next Best Bet?" 5 July 2010  and  
"Fast Trax 2 - The case for a southern high speed alternative (SHSL)" 24 February 2010 

The important thing to remember is that direct services can be offered from the airports (a)if there are excellent connections to the rail network  and (b)if there is demand . It should be said that road connections are not  considered since there is excessive road traffic on the roads and the emphasis should be on transfering traffic on to public transport.

The rail connections to public transport must be  (a) to the final destination of London (b) to other transport interchanges to facilitate easy movement to the outskirts of the capital without clogging Central London,(c) to other destinations outside the capital which can be through connections or direct services, and (d) the ability to interchange from one airport(easily, and quickly) to another to facilitate the needs of transfer passengers. A one stop or one change system of rail transport can make London´s airport system much more attractive to domestic and foreign passengers alike. This would then mean greater usage of the system(each airport having two runways or more according to demand).

The demand for such connections is of supreme importance to make them viable alternatives. It should be remembered that as stated in the report from HSR2 Ltd..(High Speed Rail London to the West Midlands and Beyond HS2) Demand Model Analysis. "Our model suggests a station at Heathrow would deliver the greatest demand for access to Heathrow, with around 2,000 passengers per day using HS2 to access the airport for international flights. This means that even a station at Heathrow which is deliberately modelled to maximise the attractiveness for airport passengers would represent less than 2% of the traffic on HS2". This report was to the Department for Transport. Both under the Labour government and later with the coalition government the reports were that any HS2 spur to Heathrow was not justified by numbers. However, this changes when the connectivity is amplified to include more than one airport, or simplify connections to the rail system. But any connection does not necessarily mean to HS2 as we have stated earlier.

Is it not more attractive to have train services (a)Eurostar from Heathrow , through Gatwick and Ashford to Brussels and Amsterdam or Cologne, or to Lille and Paris (b) Cross Country trains from Gatwick, through Heathrow to Reading and then westwards to Wales or northwards to Birmingham? Would these services not dampen down demand for domestic and near-Europe air services? After all that is the objective of the "Green" lobby. In the end you have to spend in order to save.

Use the airports. Expand them which would far less disruptive than other plans. Think of them as local as well as national assets. Make them work together by connecting them.
GBP50 billion can go a lot much further in improving the infrastructure for a greater number of people over greater areas of the country, than just a"white elephant" standing in the mists of the Thames Estuary buzzed and bespotted by seagulls and wild geese.