Aviation policy must protect consumers as airport capacity constraints threaten the UK’s preeminent position

Posted: 14 December 2011 | CAA | No comments yet

“We frequently hear that the UK is losing out to Europe in its aviation network…”

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The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has today advised the Government that although currently the UK is extremely well-connected, that situation is changing and will not last without a robust aviation policy setting out clear objectives for the future.

In its Insight Note Aviation Policy for Consumers, published today, the CAA has set out the view that the Government needs to put the people who use airports at the heart of its thinking when it consults on its Aviation Policy next spring.

At present, most people in the UK have excellent access to airports, with around 90% of the population living within two hours travel of at least two airports serving international destinations and 70% within one hour of one airport. This level of choice is currently unrivalled in Europe.

That position will soon be tested by increasing capacity constraints in the South East, which will increasingly limit the choice and value of available flights. Limited supply means the price of air travel is likely to rise.

While London is well connected now, capacity constraints at London’s airports may already mean that their airlines are less able than those at other European airports to try out new routes to emerging markets. The lack of available capacity at Heathrow is already beginning to affect the UK’s air services agreements with foreign states.

Consumers who do not live in the south of the country already have to use a variety of hubs to travel internationally, and the Insight Note sets out the importance for UK consumers of maintaining a good network of European transfer airports. Although other European airports are competitors for the industry, for consumers they increase choice and value.

Iain Osborne, CAA Director of Regulatory Policy, said: “We frequently hear that the UK is losing out to Europe in its aviation network and that there is a connectivity crisis in London. The data we’ve published shows that there is no crisis today: London is one of the world’s best connected cities and the UK punches well above its weight internationally in its air links.

“However, capacity constraints mean airports may become increasingly specialised in the routes they offer and the airlines that fly them. Government needs to recognise this and ensure that its aviation policy has the consumer interest at its heart.

“This review offers a chance to weigh up what approach to future airport capacity is likely to best serve UK passengers as a whole, rather than only considering what works well for the South East.”

The CAA also reemphasised its message that when setting its objectives for aviation, the Government must be mindful that a privatised aviation industry will deliver solutions better if Government sets high-level objectives and allows industry to use its own innovation meet those objectives. Government is not best placed to plan detailed investment blue-prints.

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