14 NOVEMBER 2016
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A DECISIVE YEAR FOR UK AIRPORTS
With the AOA Annual Conference opening at the Hilton London Metropole next Monday (21 November is the start of the two-day event) it seemed an appropriate time for Ed Anderson to be “On the Soapbox". For Anderson’s background, see BTN 1 January.
The government’s decision last month to back the building of a new runway at Heathrow Airport demonstrates a clear recognition by ministers of our sector’s importance for economic growth.
However, this is only a first step. There is so much more to do to promote airport growth elsewhere in the country and to help our airports to make better use of existing capacity by improving surface access and supporting airspace modernisation.
Official UK Department for Transport forecasts show that all the main London and South East airports – Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, London City and Southend – will fill up by 2030, and that airports around the country – such as Birmingham, Bristol, East Midlands and Manchester – start topping out from 2040. Capacity is very definitely a national issue and not one for just London and the South East.
Airports themselves make an important contribution to the economy, but their biggest impact comes through their wider role in generating economic activity. Better surface access is crucial in facilitating these impacts. Just how crucial will be demonstrated shortly when the Airport Operators Association publishes an expert new study on the issue. Our report will show that a 5% improvement in average journey times to and from airports could deliver a 2.7% increase in passenger numbers, generating an additional £1.9 billion for the British economy and supporting 32,000 jobs.
New runways and better rail and road access to airports are only half the story. Just as important will be our ability to make best use of the skies above us through airspace modernisation. When ministers consult on this next year, we will be explaining how more efficient use of airspace would help to reduce delays and cut both carbon emissions and noise.
The coming year will be a crucial one for UK aviation as the Department for Transport begins work on a new and comprehensive aviation strategy, which ministers say will provide clear guidance on how they intend to approach all the major aviation issues that the UK is expected to face in the years ahead.
Work on this strategy will coincide with the government’s opening of negotiations on the UK’s departure from the European Union. That is a coincidence that should serve to remind Westminster and Whitehall just how important a thriving aviation sector will be to ensure that our island economy can continue to take full advantage of trading opportunities with the rest of the world.
Of course, Brexit itself poses unprecedented challenges for UK airports and airlines, since most flights to and from UK airports connect us with other EU countries and with countries, such as the USA and Canada, with which the EU has a multilateral air services agreement. Unless action is taken, once the UK leaves the EU those agreements would no longer apply and there would be no legal framework to fly to any of those destinations.
It must be a government priority in our negotiations with the EU to ensure that those agreements either continue to apply to the UK or are replaced with effective equivalents. This will be crucial not just for the UK, which is Europe’s largest single aviation market, but also for the other EU 27, who will need to safeguard their air traffic links to us. It will be vital for our sector, but also for the success of the UK economy post-Brexit because of the essential role that aviation plays as an enabler of trade in both goods and services.
All these issues and more will be high on the agenda at our annual conference next week, whose theme will be promoting airport growth and making better use of existing capacity. Delegates will have a chance to hear from a senior government minister and from the Opposition as well as from airport and airline chief executives, including John Holland-Kaye from Heathrow, Stewart Wingate from Gatwick, Michael O’Leary from Ryanair and Willie Walsh from IAG. We will also welcome Olivier Jankovec from the airports’ pan-European trade association, ACI Europe, who will give us a Brussels perspective on Brexit, and Arnaud Feist, chief executive of Brussels Airport, who will tell us how his airport responded earlier this year to terrorist attack.
It promises to be the event of the year for UK aviation. I look forward to welcoming delegates from across the aviation sector and to hearing our speakers provide essential insights into some of the many challenges and opportunities facing us in 2017.
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