26 MARCH 2012

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Article from BTNews 26 MARCH 2012

COMMENT: The lost aviation years! An about turn?

Confused regarding the Government’s policy on Air Transport?  Or does it have a policy on aviation?

Last Wednesday’s Budget hardly mentioned the business of airlines, the life blood of the country.  Pleas regarding Air Passenger Duty (APD) were totally ignored.  Chancellor George Osborne did acknowledge that something had to happen.  Was this an about-turn?  On Thursday the Department for Transport (Strategic Information Officer) issued what was termed “The Aviation Policy Framework and Hub Call for Evidence” confirming action “in the summer”.  By Friday the Budget debate was under way in the House with the Secretary of State for Transport Justine Greening telling MPs the Government was determined to ensure the UK remained internationally competitive.

She said: "We should remember that our country and our capital are right up there with the very best when it comes to international connections."  Some would argue that point.

It looks like we have lost a decade.  When it came to power this Government hastily jumped in and scrapped the 2003 Aviation White Paper.  A scoping document was published in March 2011 with the closing date for evidence 20 October last year.  Five months on and nothing.  With this latest delay and no fixed date for publication the London Mayoral election has been taken out of the scenario.  Will something be announced hours before the recess?  We then have the party conferences.  By the end of the year Westminster will be already looking towards May 2015 and an election.  If Ms Greening, MP for Putney, still holds the transport portfolio will she be campaigning for the nation, Heathrow, or her own seat?  In case anyone has forgotten, the excellent Gatwick – Heathrow helicopter link was destroyed for constituency requirements, not for its undoubted value?

Outside Parliament every business orientated lobby group is shouting for action and wanting to be heard.

However we may have a white knight from an unexpected source.  The All Party Parliamentary Group on Aviation (APPGA), chaired by Brian Donohoe, Labour MP for Ayr, has today announced its own enquiry, which will last for seven weeks, inviting a wide range of aviation stakeholders to provide written evidence by 16 May. 

The House itself has recognised the urgency of the situation.  Mr Donohoe sums up.

“The UK’s aviation industry is at a crucial juncture.  Air Passenger Duty will rise next week by twice the rate of inflation and the Government has announced that it is re-igniting the debate on airport capacity in the South East.

The aviation industry makes an enormous contribution to the UK economy, directly employing more than 352,000 people and paying in excess of £8.6bn in tax each year as well as contributing more than £50bn to GDP.  Its impact is far reaching: supporting a further 600,000 jobs indirectly, acting as the gateway for the vast majority of Britain’s inbound tourism and driving economic growth more widely.

However, the sad truth is that it is simply not competitive internationally: the World Economic Forum’s recent tourism competitiveness report ranked the UK 134th out of 138 countries for air ticket taxes and airport charges.  This inquiry will explore to what extent Government policy-making is responsible for this and what more can be done to improve the long-term prospect of the UK as an important international aviation hub.”

AERBT believes the Government must, as soon as possible, declare the policy of “no new runway in the South East” dead and then make a rational decision to either build a new airport, expand an existing operation, including Heathrow, or our own favoured quick mid-term cash positive/low-cost solution, turn RAF Northolt into a civilian operation.

Ten years have been lost.  Thankfully we have had the about-turn.  No more delays please.  Let us all march forward together.

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