View from the CEO: What regional airports need from a new Aviation Strategy
This provides a perfect opportunity to show that Britain is open for business, providing a platform from which we can travel to and trade with the world. The policy will have real life consequences in terms of economic growth, connectivity, tourism, job creation and the environment, and it is critical to the continued growth of regional airports such as Bristol.
Just as the Airports National Policy Statement on Airports sets the framework for Heathrow’s expansion, the Aviation Strategy must provide a mandate for all other airports to meet their full potential. Without equal billing, and a commitment to progress an ambitious Strategy without delay, the UK’s other airports and regions risk falling behind.
The Strategy needs to look right across the country and recognise that dynamic growth is occurring in places like the West of England and other regions. It needs to be based on robust and realistic evidence, giving more emphasis to local dynamics and demographics rather than theoretical models based on overspill from the London airport system.
Secondly, the Aviation Strategy should provide clear and unambiguous policy support for regional airports which need to grow. Of course, satisfying local stakeholders that growth is sustainable will be essential. But without setting the overall policy context within which local decisions can be made with confidence, regional airports risk being left grounded.
Thirdly, Government should also play an active role in working with airports and regional partners to improve surface access. Better road and rail connections widen catchment areas, increase competition, improve journey times and increase GVA.
At Bristol, we are poorly served in terms of surface access and are working hard with local partners to deliver ambitious schemes. But we need the support of Government - and Government needs to ensure transport funding is more evenly spread across the country.
Brexit is a fourth area where regional airports face a slightly different challenge.
At Bristol, more than 80 per cent of our passengers are UK originating, and only six per cent fly to destinations outside the European Economic Area. Running in tandem with Brexit negotiations, the new Strategy presents a unique opportunity to reiterate the importance of aviation to Britain’s relationship with the world and the interconnectedness of our economy with the EU and beyond. We will all be losers if our open skies become more closed, or if barriers or different regulatory regimes are imposed.
Fifthly, the Strategy needs to reflect the market reality that most airports operate in a fiercely competitive environment. We compete for airlines and aircraft right across Europe. We are becoming increasingly customer-focussed, improving service levels both to airlines and passengers.
The Strategy is an opportunity to promote competition and commercial negotiation, not increased regulation and ultimately increased costs to the consumer.
Airports also provide a gateway to the regions they serve. Promoting the use of regional airports is a great way to help share the benefits of tourism more widely across the country, and recognising major regional airports as strategic employment locations in local and regional plans should be encouraged.
The Aviation Strategy is also an opportunity to look again at the welcome we give to visitors on arrival and whether we have the right resources at the border to send the message that Britain is open for business.
The final area I would like the Aviation Strategy to focus on is perhaps the most important. Without addressing our environmental impacts we cannot be expected to be given permission to grow. Noise, carbon emissions and air quality all present challenges – but these challenges are very different at regional airports, as are airline operating models.
Simply transposing mitigation measures appropriate at Heathrow to other UK airports will have unintended consequences for regional connectivity. Instead, the Aviation Strategy must make it clear that local solutions which balance the wide benefits of air travel with its specific impacts on those living close to airports should be found through local consultation and community engagement.
Airports in the UK can play an incredibly important role in showing Britain is open for business. To do, that we need a bold new Aviation Strategy which helps us to deliver to our full potential.