16 JULY 2012

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Article from BTNews 16 JULY 2012

COMMENT: Five years wasted?

One of the first acts of the current Government was an impetuous decision to abandon any further discussion on a third runway for Heathrow.  Pure politics.  Nothing to do with the needs of the nation.

In a bid to put that ghastly mistake behind it, last week the Coalition published what it called “the foundations for the future growth of aviation",  a draft policy paper.  Justine Greening, Transport Secretary, delivered it.

Even by Westminster standards it must have been the non-document of the year.

It mentions a rail link from the west into Heathrow (which would indicate at least some interest in the airport); talks about the further liberalisation of the UK aviation market to encourage foreign airlines to develop routes from airports other than Heathrow; says something about inviting train companies to explore the potential of ‘code-sharing’ between flights and long-distance rail services.  It is essentially pure waffle.  Most of what it says we already know about.  HS2 is moving forward, there are new trains on the Stansted Slow which have not made the service any quicker, and Gatwick Airport station is being upgraded.

A separate call for evidence on how to maintain the UK's international connectivity and hub status will follow later in the year it was announced.  More delay, more delay, more delay.

Appreciating the position the House of Commons Transport Committee quickly agreed to hold an inquiry into the Government’s aviation strategy, which will include consideration of options for expanding airport capacity in south east England.  Full terms of reference and a call for evidence will be published in September.

There has been a host of comment on the Minister’s statement from interested parties. 

Darren Caplan, Chief Executive of the Airport Operators Association, said: “The more we delay the more jobs, businesses and routes the UK loses to competitors”.  Mr Caplan has also been banging the drum regarding APD and has at least 62 MPs signed up on a Parliamentary motion for HM Treasury to commission a comprehensive study into the full economic effects of aviation tax.  Last Friday an action group A Fair Tax on Flying sent 40,000 emails to members of the House of Commons detailing the malfunction of the levy.

Mike Carrivick, another Chief Executive, this time at BAR UK, the airline’s representative body, called on the Government to act decisively sooner rather than later and warned that continued prevarication is damaging to business and employment prospects.  Mark Tanzer, ABTA Chief Executive, more or less said the same thing.  Action is needed now, not tomorrow.

This Government has already wasted 15 months prevaricating.  We have actually got nowhere.  And when this discussion document is eventually published all it is ever going to produce is more talk, and even less action.

A fine non-partisan piece by Peter Mandelson in The Times summed up the whole messy issue “Only the wise men can land an airport policy”, he said. 

Mandelson is not one of our favourite politicians, but he was Business Secretary from 2008 until 2010 and gives an example in his piece of when the two major parties worked together.  He says that neither side were allowed to duck the issues.  As a member of the House of Lords he can say what he likes, and does so.  Mr Mandelson does not argue for one solution or another but just outlines the situation in a well researched and informative manner.

Let the Coalition watch the Olympics and then have a holiday.  But do come back refreshed and ready for some air transport action or before we know it five years would have been lost.

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