15 JULY 2013
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A public hearing last week brought to the surface a view that has been simmering with interested parties for some time regarding the Airport Commission. Willie Walsh, IAG’s Chief Executive, articulated: “I suspect the recommendations by the committee won’t be acted on by politicians... I’m critical of the politics behind their decisions”. In other words once the recommendations of the Davies report are published after the 2015 election the Prime Minister of the day will do what exactly suits him. British Airways, with its fine slot bank, will continue on the assumption of a two-runway Heathrow. It looks a good commercial decision.
London Mayor Boris Johnson had said much the same as Mr Walsh in a convoluted way seven days earlier. “It’s not a matter of engineering, it’s not a matter of money, it’s a question of political will”.
Last Thursday submissions closed for comments on “Airport Operational Models” as requested by the Airport Commission, resulting no doubt with another huge quantity of paperwork being deposited at the Department for Transport in what we like to call “The paperless society”. Just about everyone with any interest in air transport (for and against) seemingly has submitted their thesis. Even Edinburgh Airport, whose interest in the SE hub concept must be minimal, added its words. However Edinburgh Airport is owned by the same investors as Gatwick.
The paper, “Airport Operational Models”, runs to 56 pages of fascinating material and was published on 16 May. But it is not up to date. Whilst it quotes Amsterdam, Dubai, Frankfurt, Madrid, and Paris CDG as linked UK gateway alternatives to Heathrow, it does not mention Dublin, now quickly establishing itself as a first class point of entry to the United States. Nor were the producers of the paper to know that Flybe was to abandon Gatwick Airport with all sorts of consequences for the regions.
The Treasury is aware of the problems of domestic routes into London, Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary, stating in Parliament on 26 June: "But we also need to think of the remote parts of the UK that HS2 won’t reach. Air connections are crucial to those regional economies. To help maintain those connections, I can announce today we will be providing £10 million a year for a new Regional Air Connectivity Fund. And I will look forward to Howard Davies’ report into this, and other aviation issues".
A position reaffirmed by Aviation Minister Simon Burns in replying to a question from Shadow Transport Secretary Maria Eagle on 5 July: “The importance of regional air connectivity to London airports is recognised in the Aviation Policy Framework (APF), which confirms that the Government would be inclined to support proposals by devolved and regional bodies to establish Public Service Obligations (PSOs) that comply with the specific conditions within EU law where necessary to protect services between other UK airports and London. Where the case for a PSO has been made the Government will agree, subject to periodic review, the appropriate level of support it will provide alongside regional support”.
What better way of using that £10m than on facilitating development for regional air service access to Northolt (NHT) and London. Whilst Business Travel News has only previously promoted the airport for A to B services in fact it works well for T5, just 12 minutes away via the A40 and M25. Somewhat nearer than Gatwick! The RAF can keep its slots and take the money. NHT can be the saviour for regional airports such as Carlisle, Humberside, Inverness, Leeds, Newquay, Plymouth, Prestwick and Teesside into the capital (and interlining) and a relief for non-connecting traffic at Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow. It would show that the Government is concerned with the UK regions and their economies and employment, not just the south east. A win win all round!
Later this week Heathrow unveils its ideas for the future. One idea seemingly being leaked is to drop the third runway and go for two new strips of concrete south of the airport. Or maybe even the Jock Lowe four-runway scheme (See BTN 29 April). What happens then to the Sipson land bank? Does this envisage a messy compulsory purchase scheme?
In early September Sir Howard Davies is to meet with the House of Commons All Party Parliamentary Group on Aviation which may provide some initial insights to his thinking, if not the final proposals.
BTN can only repeat what Boris has said: “It’s not a matter of engineering, it’s not a matter of money, it’s a question of political will".
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