24 OCTOBER 2011

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Article from BTNews 24 OCTOBER 2011

COMMENT: Another Secretary of State for Transport

AERBT does not have to be as diplomatic as IAG chief Willie Walsh who said that the new Transport Minister Justine Greening had a “conflict of interest” on taking on her new responsibility.  She was, and is, a leading campaigner against Heathrow’s third runway.  As far as AERBT is concerned she is the “Nimby in Chief.”

Now by all accounts Ms Greening is a very bright lady but one would have thought before moving into Putney she might have noticed that there was an airport on her doorstep.  Unlike Walsh, who also lives under the Heathrow flight path, she could have chosen somewhere else as her main place of residence.  The moral of the story is don’t buy a property near Heathrow and then complain about the noise!

For the most part there has been no public utterances on the appointment from the transport industry, just a buzz of concern.  No statements of support.  That is except for the Airport Operators Association who welcomed her appointment.  “In her previous capacity she was always open to discussion, and I look forward to an ongoing dialogue with her in her new role as Transport Secretary,” said Darren Caplan, Chief Executive.

It has been a busy week for the new boss of Great Minster House.

Appointed on the previous Friday evening, by last Wednesday she was appearing before the House of Commons Transport Select Committee and giving a professional, if nervous, performance in front of her MP colleagues.  In one sense Ms Greening was lucky in that the current Chair, Mrs Louise Ellman, takes a much quieter approach than her fearsome predecessor, the late Gwyneth Dunwoody. 

On the four aspects of transport – aviation, ferries, rail and road – Mrs Ellman and her colleagues were for the most part gentle, with the new Minister putting on a defensive display booting some awkward questions into touch when the pressure got too much. 

She is supposed to be something of an expert on the London Underground and also knows from her Treasury days how each department is funded, and also in contradiction, taxation, in this case APD.

It has been a busy week for Ms Greening.  On Wednesday she was launching herself to watching industries with the Select Committee.  For Thursday the task was to take final submissions regarding the Government’s aviation review due in the Spring “A sustainable framework for UK aviation” also known as the scoping document.

Whilst clearly she will not be seeing the detailed submissions at this stage (and there are some complex documents) these appear to have come in thick and fast.  Even AERBT made a proposal (suggesting Northolt as an interim London airports' measure). 

BAR UK (Board of Airline Representation UK) calls its plan for the future “a last chance for UK aviation”, whilst the Institute of Directors points out that judgment takes too long.  “We cannot have another debacle like Terminal 5, where it took eight years for a decision to be made.”  The Institute of Directors' (IoD) target is 12 months.  ADS (the successor to SBAC, representing the supply industry) was also most assertive.  “Aviation does need Government to step up to its responsibilities regarding this sector, providing the right political framework to allow the aviation area to grow in a sustainable way, integrated with other transport modes and Industries.”

The airlines of course have had plenty to say.  British Airways pointed out that there are now 21 emerging market destinations with daily flights from other European hubs that are not served from Heathrow.  As a result UK passengers are increasingly being forced to transfer through alternative hubs such as Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam – effectively outsourcing the UK’s air transport needs.  Andrew Strong, Managing Director, Flybe, told a group of more than 50 MPs that the Government needs to reform Air Passenger Duty (something, as mentioned, that Ms Greening knows all about from her days in the Treasury.  Has she something up her sleeve for the budget?). 

Ms Greening has arrived.  Since Alistair Darling’s productive four-year tenure (May 2002-May 2006) there have been five (Alexander, Kelly, Hoon, Adonis, Hammond) holders of this vital Office of State.  It is tradition to wish a new minister well, as the airport people have done and AERBT follows in that custom.  But there are very, very big concerns within the industry.  It could be that Ms Greening will take credit from her Treasury time if there is a loosening of APD in November.  Clearly a Cabinet position was too temping a post to turn down, but has she really the zest for Transport?  There is seemingly nothing positive from the appointment.  Worrying times.

Malcolm Ginsberg
Editor in Chief

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