17 MAY 2010

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Article from BTNews 17 MAY 2010

COMMENT: That Was the Week that Was

The more senior of readers may recall the highly successful BBC TV satire show of the early 1960s That Was the Week that Was.  Fronted by David Frost and Millicent Martin it only ran for two seasons in 1962 and 1963 and was often referred to as TW3.  The programme went out live, in black and white, and achieved miracles in terms of content when communications technology comprised of just the telephone and telex.

It beggars belief just how the TW3 team would have dealt with last week’s events in British politics.  Instant decisions would have had to be made, and some they would have got wrong.  In current society it would have meant a field day for the lawyers, the BBC Director General probably having a heart attack.  The original show was pulled because the people in charge were concerned of bias with a forthcoming election due!

This legal angle brings us to one important event of the last seven days, the judgment of the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) not to pursue a case against what we might call the “The Virgin Four”, former and present British Airways senior staff charged with marketing collusion.  Whatever the technical reasons, the no-go decision stopped a court case that would have been expensive, time consuming, and probably very embarrassing.  AERBT’s view is that it should never have been started in the first place. 

In all industries people talk to each other.  Fuel is supplied to all airlines at much the same price, and a special one-off hike is likely to be the same for everyone.  The increase should therefore be similar.  Or even the same.  After all BA and Virgin Atlantic charge much the same basic fare (surprise surprise) and it is up to the customer to make the choice.

The UK now has a new government in place, the party with the largest number of Members of Parliament and vote share, propped up by a challenger who lost out in terms of numbers and people marking an X for its candidates.  Strange thing politics. 

We have a fresh Secretary of State for Transport (see below) replacing one who in his short term in office quickly established himself as a forward looking pragmatist, a railway man at heart, who was quickly able to pick up the nuances of the business travel and aviation scene.  We wish Lord Adonis well in opposition.

Both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are opposed to Heathrow’s critical third runway, and intend to stop the project.  Neither have any alternative plan.  High speed rail is fine for domestic use only.  The idea of any regional airport establishing itself as a hub is a non-starter.  How many times has British Airways tried to run a New York service from Manchester and failed?  King Canute could not stop the waves, nor can Paul Kehoe, the Managing Director of Birmingham Airport, attract any air routes of real consequence. 

Will David Cameron go down in the future as the Prime Minster who destroyed London as the world’s centre for international air travel?  Britain once led in engineering, shipping, trains, cars and aerospace.  We now are in front in terms of financial service industries, but for how long?  At least we own the world’s most popular trading language, English.

We can only wish the new Secretary of State for Transport well.  It will take him some weeks to get his feet under the table.  The Conservative Party was always the party of big business, but we do have to question whether politics (not for the first time) has got in the way of common sense.  If Heathrow is a no-go let us hear of the alternative.  Not for the first time has a properly conducted study had it conclusions completely overturned by short term political dogma.

Malcolm Ginsberg

Editor in Chief

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