17 JULY 2017


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Article from BTNews 17 JULY 2017

COMMENT: Government should assess the Northolt situation, says BTN

Last week, secretary of state for transport Chris Grayling was guest of honour at the Aviation Club. Business Travel News editor-in-chief Malcolm Ginsberg used the occasion to ask the minister about RAF Northolt, in west London and six miles north of Heathrow, which is about to close for refurbishment.

Ginsberg suggested that the government should take the opportunity for a proper assessment of the subsidised private jet operations return and replaced by quiet turboprop services from regional airports not currently connected to London.

“There is a golden opportunity for a proper evaluation of the airport and its future and not just a hasty response by the MOD,” Ginsberg said. “The Treasury and the CAA have to be brought into the appraisal.”

The fact is that Northolt, used mainly by private jets and the occasional government/MOD flights, is expected to close shortly for up to a year. This has not been published in the public forum except in answer to a local consultative committee question. The cost is put at £40m, deemed very high by experts in this area.

BTN contends that the biz jets should not return and should be swapped by scheduled services to UK airports that do not have services into Heathrow but which are desperately needed – Durham Tees Valley, Liverpool, Londonderry, Newquay,  Prestwick and so on.

It would be an interim measure while extra capacity for London is sorted out. The 12,000 private movements would be replaced by 12,000 scheduled services. The air traffic movements remain the same, and any suggestions otherwise by the RAF being a pure red herring. Up to 500,000 passengers per year (at £15), against 2,500, and on average 60 passengers per aircraft against 2.5. A profitable airport vs a loss making one.

Northolt is closing.  The biz jets will find new homes.  Here is a unique opportunity  for a proper examination of the future of Northolt and the UK’s regional air services.  An enquiry can be established very very quickly and report back well before the runway is ready for use.  A chance for real initiative, Mr Grayling.

Aside from Northolt, for which he gave a abstruse reply, Grayling in his speech confirmed government support for aviation and addressed concerns why the Heathrow third runway was not included in the Queen’s Speech – not because the plan had been dropped, not because Parliament did not support it, but simply because getting it built doesn’t require any new primary legislation.

“Our commitment to the third runway is as strong as ever,” Grayling said. “Right now, we are reviewing the many responses to the consultation on the draft Airports National Policy Statement. It needs to be done right. We’re not interested in expansion at any cost, but the right scheme at the right price.”

The government wanted a plan that kept landing charges as close as possible to current levels, he said. It would expect passengers’ fares to come down, even after taking into account the cost of construction, thanks to the increased competition a new runway would allow.

“Once the final National Policy Statement has been published, Heathrow will follow the set legal process for obtaining planning permission,” Grayling continued. And there was wide support across Parliament not only because of the new domestic links the runway could provide “but also because of what it means for the future of our country.”

The minister also announced the government was shortly to publish a new aviation strategy, an opportunity to look at what the government could do for the sector and its customers by setting the long-term direction for aviation policy to 2050.

“It will look at the challenges facing the industry and the opportunities, but its overriding aim will be to put the customer at the centre of aviation policy,” he went on. “That’s because if this industry is getting customer service right, you’re likely to be getting much else right too."

The strategy would also consider safety and security, growing our global connections, encouraging competition, embracing new technology, building a skilled workforce and supporting growth while reducing aviation’s negative effects, including  airports’ neighbours and the wider environment.

“We want to hear from airlines, airports, the aerospace sector, freight customers, passengers and the public about how we can support this industry, those it serves, and those who are affected by it,” he said.

The government would then publish a final white paper next year setting out its plans.

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OUR READERS' FINEST WORDS (All times and dates are GMT)

All comments are filtered to exclude any excesses but the Editor does not have to agree with what is being said. 100 words maximum

Brian Donohoe, UK

I have for years with Laurie Price been advocating the Change of use of Northolt and agree completely for its use as described But NOT as an interem solution but as a permanent gain for all of the UK

Richard Stokes, UK/Laleham

A half good idea, but why not go the extra mile and make Northolt into a Regional and LCC short haul Airport. Initially, it could relieve pressure on Heathrow, as there are still many domestic short haul flights out of Heathrow, consuming valuable slots.

Angela Stevens, Ramsgate, Kent. UK

Make all airfields greenfield space and not brownfield sites! That will stop greedy developers and councils from allowing airport closures and building on them.

Richard Stokes, UK/Laleham

A half good idea, but why not go the extra mile and make Northolt into a Regional and LCC short haul Airport. Initially, it could relieve pressure on Heathrow, as there are still many domestic short haul flights out of Heathrow, consuming valuable slots.