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Aviation policy framework welcomed, but more support needed to give wings to airports across the UK

Created: 25th Feb 2013

Bristol Airport has welcomed the long-awaited publication of the Government’s Aviation Policy Framework but expressed disappointment that it does not provide clearer and more tangible support for airports to deliver growth and investment, particularly in the regions.

Commenting on the Framework, Robert Sinclair, Chief Executive Officer at Bristol Airport, said:

“The Aviation Policy Framework is a very important milestone for this Government’s policy towards airports. Following significant consultation with all interested parties, the Framework provides a clear statement of the vital role airports play in driving economic growth, connecting Britain to the world and attracting tourists to this country.

“Unfortunately, however, the Government has missed the opportunity to go further and provide a more definitive set of policies that would help airports kick-start growth, create jobs and rebalance the economy. And nothing has been done to reduce the huge burden that passengers face from the highest aviation taxes in the world.

“Bristol Airport will be submitting evidence to the Airports Commission shortly to demonstrate the significant role it can play in promoting air travel for people and businesses in the South West and South Wales, reducing their need to make long and expensive car journeys to fly from airports in the South East.”

Bristol Airport’s report,Giving wings to airports across the UK,makes the case for Government policy to enable airports outside London to more effectively serve their local markets by making best use of existing capacity, easing congestion in the South East as a result. It includes five recommendations which would deliver real benefits for airports in the regions, the wider economy and passengers across the country:

1. Rebalancing the economy

In order to deliver the forecast growth in UK air passengers and spread the benefits of connectivity more evenly across the UK, aviation policy must provide clear support for specific growth proposals at airports in the regions. Without an explicit Government policy directive, critical decisions affecting regional economic growth risk becoming bogged down in local planning disputes. Action is also required to make best use of existing capacity outside London. While it is airlines who decide which routes are operated from which airports, a range of policy levers and fiscal measures should be employed to ensure best use is made of existing airport capacity.

2. Investing in surface access improvements

Government policy should prioritise transport proposals that would deliver short, medium and long-term improvements in surface access to airports outside London in order to drive economic growth within the regions. Links to nearby airports should be a key consideration when assessing applications for funding of new transport schemes, rather than a default approach which focuses on funnelling regional passengers to an already congested Heathrow.

3. Supporting inbound tourism to the regions

The Government’s tourism strategy should encourage international visitors to use airports in the regions as gateways to the UK. The proximity of regional attractions to local airports with access to international connections should be highlighted in marketing materials promoting the UK overseas. Priority should also be given to airports outside London when considering initiatives, such as US pre-clearance, which would increase their appeal to international passengers. Similarly, where this would provide benefits to inbound passengers, Government agencies should consider piloting other innovative technology and processes at airports in the regions.

4. Promoting travel policies which embrace airports in the regions

Private and public sector organisations should be encouraged to revise travel policies to, where possible, favour the use of airports in the region in which they are located. This would deliver a combination of time, cost and emissions savings, while also relieving congestion at London airports. Government should also address the anomaly whereby passengers on domestic flights linking far-flung regions of the UK pay double the tax of those making return trips to destinations in other European countries.

5. Maintaining ‘light touch’ regulation in the aviation sector

The Government should act decisively to reduce the regulatory burden and costs for airports. Additional regulatory costs act as a drag on efficiency and should be avoided wherever possible. Regulation should avoid a ‘one size fits all’ approach, with the characteristics of individual airports taken into consideration when framing any limits or guidelines required.

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