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Britain’s long-term aviation plan

Posted: 7 December 2012 | Simon Burns, Minister of State at the UK Department for Transport | No comments yet

For centuries, Britain has owed its prosperity to the transport and trade routes linking it with the rest of the world. Today is no different. We need efficient and resilient air connections to remain competitive in a rapidly changing global economy.

The importance of air travel in this country has been growing rapidly over the past two decades. In 2010, UK airports handled 211 million passengers, and around half of the UK population travelled by air at least once.

Airports outside of London have spear – headed much of this growth, with passenger numbers growing at an average of seven per cent a year between 2000 and 2006. Major players like Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow and Edinburgh have led the way, but increasingly smaller airports like Bristol, Durham, Exeter, and Leeds-Bradford have expanded their share of the market.

The Government wants to see that growth continue, as long as it is in the customers’ interest, and it meets our wider environmental commitments. We are taking forward the Civil Aviation Bill to modernise the regulatory framework for civil aviation in the UK. The Bill enables the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to bring a strong consumer focus to its activities, improving transparency and accountability, and ensuring a better service for passengers.

For centuries, Britain has owed its prosperity to the transport and trade routes linking it with the rest of the world. Today is no different. We need efficient and resilient air connections to remain competitive in a rapidly changing global economy.

The importance of air travel in this country has been growing rapidly over the past two decades. In 2010, UK airports handled 211 million passengers, and around half of the UK population travelled by air at least once.

Airports outside of London have spear – headed much of this growth, with passenger numbers growing at an average of seven per cent a year between 2000 and 2006. Major players like Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow and Edinburgh have led the way, but increasingly smaller airports like Bristol, Durham, Exeter, and Leeds-Bradford have expanded their share of the market.

The Government wants to see that growth continue, as long as it is in the customers’ interest, and it meets our wider environmental commitments. We are taking forward the Civil Aviation Bill to modernise the regulatory framework for civil aviation in the UK. The Bill enables the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to bring a strong consumer focus to its activities, improving transparency and accountability, and ensuring a better service for passengers.

We have also published a draft Aviation Policy Framework (APF) for consultation – with the final Framework to be adopted by the end of March 2013. This key document sets the highlevel policy parameters within which new proposals for airport development may be considered, while ensuring that environmental obligations are met.

Despite the growth of aviation across the UK, Britain’s position as a global aviation hub relies to a large degree on the five main airports serving London – including Heathrow, Gatwick, and Stansted. Together, these airports offer direct flights at least once a week to over 360 destinations worldwide.

As a result, London has more flights to more destinations than any other city in Europe; and globally, only China and the USA have more extensive aviation networks than the UK’s.

London’s status as a world centre for finance, culture and tourism relies on its air connections. Certainly the choice and frequency of services was an important factor in transport planning around this summer’s Olympic Games. Heathrow handled arrivals and departures for nearly 100,000 athletes, officials and members of the media, with 116,000 people taking departing flights on the busiest day on 13 August 2012.

But despite our current capability, the Government recognises that Britain has failed to follow leading competitors in planning for our longer-term aviation needs. Although there has been significant investment in new and better facilities, Heathrow is already operating at capacity, and Gatwick – the world’s busiest single runway airport – will become full early in the next decade.

Germany, France and the Netherlands have all invested more extensively in hub capacity than Britain, and as a result will be better positioned to connect with fast-growing markets in the future.

Clearly this situation needs to be addressed. Maintaining Britain’s status as a leading global aviation hub is fundamental to our long-term international competitiveness. We must deliver a solution that will provide the capacity and connections that this country needs to attract investors and create the jobs of tomorrow. Yet we must also take full account of the social and environmental impacts of any expansion in airport capacity.

Therefore, the Government has set up an independent Airports Commission under Sir Howard Davies to identify and recommend the options for achieving these objectives. The Commission will evaluate different ways in which Britain’s status as Europe’s most important aviation hub can be maintained, and how any additional capacity requirements can be met in the short, medium and long-term. All options will be considered, including proposals for new airports and expansion of current ones. The assessment process will be open and transparent, taking account of the views of passengers, residents, the aviation industry, business, local and devolved government and environmental groups. An interim report will be prepared for Government no later than the end of 2013, and a final report by the summer of 2015.

Whichever solution is ultimately chosen, delivery will span across more than one Parliament. That is why we have expressed a willingness to seek cross-party consensus. By seeking common ground across the parties, we want to take the politics out of the debate. Only then will we be able to implement a credible and practical long-term aviation plan that is right for Britain.

 

About the author

Simon Burns is the Minister of State at the Department for Transport. He worked for Senator George McGovern in his Presidential election bid against Richard Nixon in 1972, and on Hilary Clinton’s Presidential campaign in the New Hampshire primary election in 2008. Mr Burns was MP for Chelmsford from 1987 to 1997, then MP for West Chelmsford from 1997 to 2010. Currently, he is again for MP for Chelmsford and has been since May 2010. He was Parliamentary Private Secretary to Timothy Eggar MP and the Rt. Hon. Gillian Shephard MP at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food until 1994. He has also been Assistant Government Whip (1995-96) and Parliamentary Under- Secretary of State at the DH (1996-1997), and member of the House of Commons Health Select Committee from 1999 to 2005. In December 2005 Mr.Burns was made an Opposition Whip. In June 2001, Mr Burns was appointed Shadow Health Minister and re-appointed from June to December 2005. He was a Minister of State for Health from 2010 to September 2012.

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