26 JANUARY 2015

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Article from BTNews 26 JANUARY 2015

ON TOUR: Regional & Business Airports Group urges Transport Select Committee to support local aviation

The UK’s regional airports have told the government’s Transport Select Committee that the importance of regional and business aviation to local economies cannot be underestimated.

Last week, the Transport Select Committee sat to hear evidence from the aviation industry on the importance of regional aviation and how it supports both the transport infrastructure and–most importantly – the development of regional economies.

On Thursday (22 January) the Department of Transport supported this view with the announcement £56m being made available over the next three years for regional route funding (See in this issue).

John Spooner, Chairman of Regional & Business Airports Group (RABA) gave oral evidence to the committee citing the vital importance of regional airports and underlining the key role they play supporting jobs and essential aviation activities.

He called upon the committee to review the fiscal and regulatory regimes which – adding significant costs - disproportionately impact upon small airports lacking the economies of scale to absorb additional expenses easily.  Also requesting a more flexible and supportive policy framework around planning.

Mr Spooner said: “It's very encouraging to see that the Transport Select Committee has recognised the vital importance of regional airports to bringing economic prosperity and social benefit to the Regions of the U.K. The questions they asked showed that they understood the challenges that regional aviation and smaller airports face every day - and gave the impression that they want to help.

“The Select Committee was asked to help secure access from the regions to London Airports, and allow excess areas of land within regional airport sites not needed for airport purposes to be developed for non aeronautical employment purposes."

RABA was encouraged that the Select Committee appeared to recognise the multitude of social and economic roles performed by the UK's smaller regional airports. Not simply for connecting the regions to the rest of the UK, but also enabling ambulance and transplant flights, helicopter search and rescue and oil and gas field support services, aircrew, flight and engineering training, aircraft maintenance and a host of other activities providing valuable skilled and unskilled employment opportunities – often completely unconnected with aviation – which make use of the perfectly located sites of many of our airports and airfields.

The Select Committee was interested to explore why airports such as Plymouth, Manston, Coventry, Blackpool and others had faced enormous challenges during the economic recession and what could be done to ensure that their future – and that of airlines, air ambulances, training and engineering companies and other employers – could be made sustainable with the help of appropriate public policy.

RABA also told the Select Committee that it was essential that the next runway to be developed in the London area helps meet the requirements of the UK’s regions, and that runway slots must be reserved at the right times and at an affordable price for use by flights serving the country’s local airports.

Mr Spooner added: “The availability of timely and competitively priced flights to the Capital is essential to regional businesses seeking to establish new markets both across the UK and abroad. As a prime international business hub it represents a key resource for local economies, and any discussion of a new runway for London must consider its place in the national aviation infrastructure.”

The Committee also heard RABA’s evidence on how the costs of Air Passenger Duty and complying with UK regulatory requirements were particularly damaging to UK Regional Aviation.

It was noted for instance that airports with lower throughput still have to bear many of these fixed costs with no current policy or fiscal amelioration.  Some of these obligations, such as airport security, are considered total system integrity requirements in other countries and funded differently. 

RABA welcomed one member’s question as to whether the industry could do more to facilitate some sort of cross subsidisation on such matters. This – and the so called double whammy of APD imposition on internal domestic flights – illustrate ways in which aviation policies are developed without sufficient regard to the special needs of UK’s smaller regional airports, who it is acknowledged have suffered most dramatically from the effects of APD.

Airports handling less than three million passengers per year have a special set of concerns. Formed as a response to those issues in 2014, RABA is a coalition of like-minded smaller regional and business airports in the UK, working together to ensuring the voice of local commercial and business aviation airports, particularly those outside London, is properly represented in the aviation debate .

The group, which aims to represent and further the collective interests of the UK’s regional and business airports in their dealings with Government and industry regulators, has a membership that includes Durham Tees Valley, Southend. Newquay, Gloucestershire, Exeter, City of Derry, Glasgow Prestwick, Coventry, Norwich, Carlisle, Isle of Man, Guernsey, Land's End, Lydd London-Ashford, Doncaster-Sheffield and Blackpool. 

Highlands and Islands Airports (Sumburgh, Kirkwall, Wick, Inverness, Stornoway, Benbecula, Barra, Tiree, Islay, Campbeltown and Dundee Airports) are also lending their support to the follow up written submission to the Committee. 

Against the background of the Airports Commission’s report on new runway capacity in the South East - with its declared interest in ensuring that any such additional capacity delivers maximum benefit to the entire UK, the so-called Crown Dependency Airports are also finding a voice in this collaboration. 

A dialogue is developing between RABA and Irish airports of similar size who share common aspirations, while other business and GA airports with no scheduled aviation are seeing logic in adding their voice to certain key policy areas.

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