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Article from BTNews 26 SEPTEMBER 2011

COMMENT: It takes a great politician to admit he is wrong

This week’s COMMENT tries to reflect on just where the UK is going on the air transport front.  Or is not!

Three major issues dominate the scene.  Air Passenger Duty (APD), runway capacity and the European Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

Last week the Prime Minister used a platform in New York to expand on the merits of the UK for tourism.  Did not his minders remember that Heathrow is full?  London is where the vast majority of people want to go.  Nothing is going to change.  A few airlines may have successes with limited operations from regional airports, but these are pinpricks in the overall scene.

When the current government came to power just 16 months ago the first thing they did was overrule a fully (legally) considered approved plan, Heathrow’s third runway.  Clearly nobody thought out the consequences of such a move.  It was a knee-jerk reaction of getting into power.

Perhaps Mr Cameron should have also mentioned in his speech that flying to the UK is tax-free.  It is getting out that is the very expensive problem.  Or does he expect travellers to only depart on a ferry or Eurostar which is not taxed?

In today’s issue of AERBT there is a mention of a new runway at Munich and a note regarding other major continental airports and their future plans.  BA’s Keith Williams says that cutbacks in Caribbean service are due to the high APD.  John Leahy, the world’s finest aircraft salesman, speaks very positively on the future of air travel. 

Theresa Villiers, the Junior Transport Minister, spent time at Southend Airport last week full of platitudes.  Perhaps she should visit Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton and London City and be briefed on where they are not going. 

Unless this island is to sink in some form of economic catastrophe we need an urgent new air transport policy, one that creates the runway capacity needed in the South East and at least gives some hope for the future.  If the passengers cannot get to London they will go elsewhere.  Next year’s review will be a complete waste if all it does is talk about 2030.  Action is needed now, not trite promises.

Gatwick and Stansted can be expanded and the Thames Estuary scheme does have merit, although, rather like High Speed 2, the fulfilment problems dominate.

It would appear that the political dogma is such that Heathrow Three (or whatever it is called) cannot be quickly resurrected.

Let us consider Northolt as a short term answer to the slot problem.  AERBT has promoted this solution before and will continue with its encouragement.  In fact it meets every criteria politically (but one must agree it is not as good as the third runway).  No new tarmac is required, the current RAF costs can be eliminated saving the Government money, public transport already exists, and routes to regional cities saved, reactivated and introduced.  The local MPs would love that.  Air traffic difficulties can be overcome with goodwill, and of course a prototype exists in the form of London City Airport (LCY).  Regional jets of the 21st century are far quieter than those approved for LCY 25 years ago.  Ban helicopters at Northolt, the worst offenders when it comes to noise.  That will be a decent swop for the local community.  And of course it would open up slots at Heathrow and with its routes to emerging markets. 

Is this a Government that seems to have no regard to air transport except as a source of revenue?  Or is this Prime Minister big enough to admit a serious mistake was made when he came to power?

It takes a great politician to admit he is wrong.

Malcolm Ginsberg
Editor in Chief

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