Wider airport expansion beyond Heathrow should be green lit to meet growing demand, says trade body

Rebecca Smith
The industry wants a strategy allowing all airports to grow
The industry wants a strategy allowing all airports to grow (Source: Getty)

Airports should be allowed to plan for more runway capacity "as and when necessary", and decisions cannot be left to drag on, as was the case with Heathrow expansion, an industry body warned today.

The Airports Operators Association (AOA) said there should be a presumption in favour of development at an airport, provided sustainability principles are met. It wants the government to set out how it will allow airports to plan for more runway capacity as and when necessary, ensuring decisions are taken "in a timely manner".

"Current passenger growth trends suggest that airports will be filling up in the coming 15-20 years," the AOA said. "When the timelag involved in delivering infrastructure is also taken into account, it is clear consumer demand in the future will not be met unless government takes action today."

Read more: MPs to scrutinise impact of Brexit on aviation in one-off evidence session

The trade body today launches its hopes for the government's aviation strategy at its annual conference, where it is calling for a road-map setting out how better surface transport to airports will be secured, and how the likes of Network Rail and Highways England will deliver it.

UK airports plan to invest more than £8bn in their facilities over the next five years, but demand keeps growing, and in recent revised aviation demand forecasts from the government, it found that London's main airports will be completely full by the 2030s.

"Airport expansion is unique in terms of transport projects in that it is funded by the private sector," the report states. "It requires companies to make significant investments of capital funding, but a responsible company can only do this where there is a realistic chance of the project moving ahead successfully."

It calls on the government to set a clear framework, and support the implementation of development proposals.

The government has the said the new aviation strategy "will look beyond the new runway at Heathrow", setting out a long-term plan for UK aviation, with consultations on a range of areas, including customer service and safety and security.

The AOA today also reissued calls to slash air passenger duty, saying at present, it is hindering UK growth and competitiveness. The uncompetitive levels of APD make the economics of establishing new routes "economically uninteresting" for airlines, the AOA added.

To keep Britain competitive after Brexit, the trade body says APD should be cut by 50 per cent to bring it in line with other countries.

A survey commissioned by campaign group A Fair Tax on Flying, found that 82 per cent of 500 business decision-makers felt cutting APD will help the UK remain competitive as a trading nation, post-Brexit. The British Chambers of Commerce has described it as a "tax on global traders".

The AOA also wants an urgent review by Border Force and the Home Office to put together a plan for resourcing the border, saying Border Force resources have decreased as passenger numbers have risen.

Chief executive of the AOA, Karen Dee, said:

Aviation is a UK success story: record growth has seen aviation contribute more than a billion a week in GDP to the UK economy and supported the jobs of more than a million people.

As more passengers want to travel abroad and more visitors want to come to the UK, we need to be ready to meet demand in a sustainable way that fulfils consumers’ and businesses’ high expectations.

The aviation strategy is a prime opportunity for government to provide aviation with a licence to grow, sustainably, to meet consumer demand and support local and regional economies.

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