In his Autumn Statement next week, the chancellor is expected to champion a number of infrastructure projects.
Investment in road and rail is considered crucial to supporting economic growth, and transport has featured highly on the agenda of the new government so far, with HS2 and of course the third runway at Heathrow topping the bill.
In fact, one of Philip Hammond’s first announcements in his new post was to grant permission for London City Airport to expand – developing existing infrastructure to enable us to welcome 6.5m passengers and 111,000 flights per year, up from the 4.5m and 80,000 we will see by the end of this year. This will add much-needed aviation capacity into the London system within just two years.
The signs are good that the government understands the need to address short-term aviation capacity as well as planning for the longer term. However, it is essential that this is not the end of the conversation; the UK needs an aviation strategy that will drive investment across the country, boost regional connectivity, support jobs and economic development, and enable international trade and tourism not just for the next decade but for the next 50 years.
While road and rail may be seen as the trigger areas of transport to invest in for domestic connectivity and growth – and of course they play an absolutely crucial role – aviation must not be overlooked. Far from simply enabling holidaymakers to travel overseas and money to flow out of the country, aviation connects the regions and enables domestic business travel – an industry worth millions to the UK economy.
It supports inward tourism and enables international travellers to visit the UK to do business, facilitating trade and supporting exports – our research shows that London City Airport passengers do some £11bn of trade overseas each year.
I welcome the decision to build a new runway in the South East. London needs more capacity and an additional runway will create that, boosting jobs and helping to secure the UK’s position as a global hub – never more important than in the current political climate.
However, it will take time to secure permission to build, commission and construct, and the question that must be answered is “what next?” Airports and airlines must now work together with the government on a future aviation strategy that addresses both the challenges of today and demands of tomorrow.
Just this week secretary of state for exiting the EU David Davis visited London City Airport to meet with industry leaders to discuss priorities for aviation in a post-Brexit world. I welcome and am encouraged by this open approach.
Much-needed additional capacity can be unlocked at airports large and small, in the South East and across the rest of the UK, and many airports can achieve this in the short and medium term. Whether through infrastructure investment, addressing shortcomings in the planning process, or improving surface access, plans must be put in place now so we are not left scratching our heads at missed opportunities.
A more integrated public transport network would help connect airports, making journeys easier for passengers and giving them more choice of where and when they travel. Crossrail and Crossrail 2 are excellent examples of this and could connect London City Airport to Heathrow in 40 minutes, enabling short haul services to be concentrated away from Heathrow and maximising availability of slots there for the long haul.
But much like the new runway, by the time these new rail links are completed, demand will have risen to such a level that they are immediately full. Now is the time to be looking beyond that, anticipating demand and acting to ensure we deliver the capacity that is needed ahead of time.
The needs of passengers must be at the heart of this strategy, positioning the UK as a world-leader in customer experience. This is essential for our competitiveness, and to keep pace with other service industries.
Purchasing decisions are being driven less and less by price alone, and more on experience and convenience. Enabling customers to take as much control of their journey as they wish to through automation, innovation and technology is the future, and Britain must keep up.
The industry must also take responsibility for the impacts it has on the environment and its role in local communities. Air quality, particularly in London, is rightly a major focus. Aircraft manufacturers such as Bombardier, with its new C Series models, are investing heavily in designing aircraft of the future which are quieter, cleaner, and more fuel efficient.
The industry is supporting this innovation and will continue to encourage manufacturers to make further improvements, while ensuring airport infrastructure is fit-for-purpose to accommodate such aircraft types.
Modernising airspace is also crucial to growth, enabling better management of the busy London skies and developing the best systems to protect those living underneath flight paths.
Airports are major employers – expansion at London City will create 1,600 new jobs – and it is important that the industry works together to maintain its responsible approach to the communities it serves. Apprenticeships, skills and training are central to this and a national standard could form part of the overall aviation strategy.
While recent announcements are excellent progress for UK aviation, the job is far from done. A future aviation strategy must ensure we can meet demand and explore new ways in which airport growth, improved surface access and modernised airspace can be a catalyst for wider economic and social benefit. Only by working together can we support and enable growth in the UK at this crucial time, and ensure that London retains its position as one of the most important commercial, cultural and educational centres in the world.