21 NOVEMBER 2016

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Article from BTNews 21 NOVEMBER 2016

COMMENT: Timing is everything

Conferences come and conferences go, but rarely can one have arrived at a more opportune moment than the Airport Operators Association annual gathering, which kicks off today and continues tomorrow in London.

From R3 to Brexit to air services between the UK and China, speakers and delegates are facing a perfect storm of events on which to fasten their teeth, which may well explain the number of high-profile personalities lined up to share their various wisdoms. Then on Wednesday the government's Autumn Statement is published, with the chancellor being pulled in every direction. Will air transport feature?

With transport secretary Chris Grayling and Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary the latest recruits (see story this issue), AOA chief executive Darren Caplan is putting it mildly when he says: “With so much going on, never has there been a better time to hold this conference, with so many senior players participating across UK and European aviation.” 

The Heathrow debate is certain to be prominent, with the waters muddied further by this week’s intervention by London mayor Sadiq Khan. Has he changed tack? BTN seems to recall Khan was very pro-LHR when running for office. This week, he appeared to back calls for legal sanctions against a third runway. 

Industry and the City want an enlarged Heathrow. Has the mayor turned anti-London? Or is he playing politics to take advantage of the turmoil within Labour? Is he, as is the current fashion, doing a Trump?

Meanwhile, the industry is digesting the new air services agreement between the UK and China, which more than doubles the number of flights allowed to operate between the two countries.

A government statement following the signing said the move was set to boost tourism and trade opportunities for the UK, which, it added, “will be vital as we look to build a confident, global Britain after Brexit”.

Under the deal, passenger flights can now increase from the current maximum of 40 per week for each nation to up to 100, with no limit on the number of all-cargo services – creating new opportunities for UK trade and businesses.

A restriction on the number of destinations that airlines can serve has also been lifted, meaning services can be operated between any point in the UK and any point in China. Up until now, airlines could serve only six destinations in each country.

For the AOA conference, all this is good for starters. Then there is airport growth and capacity beyond the Heathrow question, the impact of Brexit beyond the China agreement, aviation tax in general and APD in particular, sustainability, security and passenger experience, to name but a few.

Gentlemen (and ladies), start your engines… 

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