Start with the passengers

Why competing gateway airports better serve communities
The crux of the debate on airport capacity is whether the south-east should have one mega-hub airport offering the maximum number of connections, or whether the UK will be better served with two or three competing airports. It is my view that competition will provide residents and visitors with better service, greater economic impact and, critically, affordable access. We can learn from many major cities around the world, such as New York, Tokyo and Shanghai. A mega-hub is not a requirement for greatness. Affordable connectivity for residents and visitors is. 
 
Connectivity vs connections
The term connectivity is often heard in this debate, but its meaning is ambiguous. It is important to distinguish between connectivity, the UK’s accesss to the rest of the world, and connections, how an airline group optimises traffic flows across its network. 
 
Connectivity is what drives economic impact and societal interactions. The goal should not merely be about connections to the greatest number of points. Instead it should be about affordable connections and adequate capacity to the right destinations across the world.
 
Affordable connectivity matters
Affordable connectivity to destinations that people want to go to is of much greater importance than having the world’s highest number of destinations. What is the point of an exhaustive list of destinations, if the price for desired destinations is so high and the capacity so limited that only a fraction of potential travellers can actually use the service? 
 
Competition
Competition is the single strongest driver of price. The UK has used competition as its main policy tool for aviation. As an aviation economist, I recognise that the UK has led the world in instilling competition in international air transport. While the US was the first to deregulate domestic markets, the UK led the privatisation of airlines, negotiating the first open skies agreements, privatising airports, and ensuring competition between airports. In a bold policy move, the U.K. in 2009 required the breakup of BAA to ensure that not only would airlines compete with each other but that the airports would as well. Enabling a mega-hub would undermine this pro-competition policy. 
 
Connecting passengers, economic impact and risk
What about passengers that merely connect between flights in London but do not visit the UK? Some emphasise the need to maximise such connections and claim that only a mega-hub can do this. Connecting passengers can add the critical mass needed for viability of a number of routes. However, the economic impact of these connecting passengers is much lower than passengers who want to come to the 
UK. The business risk is higher too. 
 
Some airports with high connecting passenger ratios discovered that such traffic was risky and could move overnight to another hub. St Louis and Pittsburgh were high connecting traffic US airports, but their home carriers either failed or changed strategy. These airports saw their traffic plummet when carriers realigned networks and moved connecting traffic to another hub. Today, as carriers form large carrier groups, management may decide that from a network perspective, certain types of traffic are best connected from a different hub in the group’s network. 
 
Where is the growth?
The contemplated airport capacity increase will not be in place until well into the 2020s. By that time, the carriers 
currently operating at Gatwick and Stansted will have evolved their business models. When we look elsewhere in the world, we see low cost carriers (LCCs) whose business models include not only connections between a single airline’s flights, but also an increasing number 
of connections with other carriers. LCCs in the US, Canada, Australia and Brazil are good examples. 
 
Today many of the most profitable airlines are not the traditional full service network carriers (FSNCs), but the LCCs. This is the case in the U.K. In a recent study I showed that  FSNC traffic in London has fallen from 77 per cent in 1990 to 40 per cent today. Growth is highest at the LCCs. A policy that would only add capacity at the airport used by FSNCs will not support growth for the fastest growing carriers. 
 
London: the world’s largest air market
London is the largest aviation market in the world. Like other major cities, it can support multiple airports. Capacity growth should support competition between airports and carriers. Competing airports will better serve the region through affordable connectivity to where people want to go. 
 
Dr Michael Tretheway is an aviation economist. He is currently engaged as an advisor by Gatwick Airport 
Stansted airport. Photograph: Getty
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Not since the Thatcher years have so many Tory MPs been so motivated by self-interest

Assured of an election win, backbenchers are thinking either advancing up the greasy pole, or mounting it for the first time. 

One hears despair from Labour not just about probable defeat, but from MPs who felt they had three years to improve the party’s fortunes, or to prepare for personal oblivion. In the Conservative Party, matters seem quite the opposite. Veterans of the 1983 election recall something similar: a campaign fought in the absolute certainty of winning. Theresa May talked of putting the interests of the country first when she engineered the poll, and one must believe she was sincere. However, for those expecting to be Tory MPs after 8 June there are other priorities. Theirs is not a fight for the national interest, because that for them is a foregone conclusion. It is about their self-interest: either advancing up the greasy pole, or mounting it for the first time. They contemplate years ahead in which to consolidate their position and, eventually, to shape the tone and direction of the party.

The luxury of such thoughts during a campaign comes only when victory is assured. In 1983 I worked for a cabinet minister and toured marginal seats with him. Several candidates we met – most of whom won – made it clear privately that however important it was to serve their constituents, and however urgent to save the country from the threats within what the late Gerald Kaufman later called “the longest suicide note in history”, there was another issue: securing their place in the Thatcher revolution. Certain they and their party would be elected in the aftermath of the Falklands War, they wanted their snout in the trough.

These are early days, but some conver­sations with those heading for the next House of Commons echo the sentiments of 1983. The contemporary suicide note has not appeared, but is keenly awaited. Tories profess to take less notice of opinion polls than they once did – and with good reason, given the events of 2015 and 2016 – but ­imagine their party governing with a huge majority, giving them a golden opportunity to advance themselves.

Labour promises to change the country; the Liberal Democrats promise to force a reconsideration of Brexit; Ukip ­promises to ban the burqa; but the Tories believe power is theirs without the need for elaborate promises, or putting any case other than that they are none of the above. Thus each man and woman can think more about what the probability of four or five further years in the Commons means to them. This may seem in poor taste, but that is human nature for you, and it was last seen in the Labour Party in about 2001.

Even though this cabinet has been in place only since last July, some Tory MPs feel it was never more than an interim arrangement, and that some of its incumbents have underperformed. They expect vacancies and chances for ministers of state to move up. Theresa May strove to make her team more diverse, so it is unfortunate that the two ministers most frequently named by fellow Tories as underachievers represent that diversity – Liz Truss, the Lord Chancellor, who colleagues increasingly claim has lost the confidence of the judiciary and of the legal profession along with their own; and Sajid Javid, the Communities Secretary, whom a formerly sympathetic backbencher recently described to me as having been “a non-event” in his present job.

Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary, was lucky to survive his own stint as lord chancellor – a post that must surely revert to a qualified lawyer, with Dominic Grieve spoken of in that context, even though, like all ardent Remainers in the government, he would be expected to follow the Brexit line – and the knives are out for him again, mainly over Southern Rail but also HS2. David Gauke, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and the little-known Ben Gummer, a Cabinet Office minister, are tipped for promotion with Grieve if vacancies arise: that all three are white men may, or may not, be a consideration.

Two other white men are also not held in high regard by colleagues but may be harder to move: Boris Johnson, whose conduct of the Foreign Office is living down to expectations, and Michael Fallon, whose imitation of the Vicar of Bray over Brexit – first he was for it, then he was against it, and now he is for it again – has not impressed his peers, though Mrs May considers him useful as a media performer. There is also the minor point that Fallon, the Defence Secretary, is viewed as a poor advocate for the armed forces and their needs at a time when the world can hardly be called a safe place.

The critical indicator of how far personal ambition now shapes the parliamentary Tory party is how many have “done a Fallon” – ministers, or aspirant ministers, who fervently followed David Cameron in advising of the apocalyptic results of Brexit, but who now support Theresa May (who is also, of course, a reformed Remainer). Yet, paradoxically, the trouble Daniel Hannan, an arch-Brexiteer and MEP, has had in trying to win selection to stand in Aldershot – thanks to a Central Office intervention – is said to be because the party wants no one with a “profile” on Europe to be added to the mix, in an apparent attempt to prevent adding fuel to the fire of intra-party dissent. This may appease a small hard core of pro-Remain MPs – such as Anna Soubry, who has sufficient talent to sit in the cabinet – who stick to their principles; but others are all Brexiteers now.

So if you seek an early flavour of the next Conservative administration, it is right before you: one powering on to Brexit, not only because that is what the country voted for, but because that is the orthodoxy those who wish to be ministers must devotedly follow. And though dissent will grow, few of talent wish to emulate Soubry, sitting out the years ahead as backbenchers while their intellectual and moral inferiors prosper.

Simon Heffer is a columnist for the Daily and Sunday Telegraphs

Simon Heffer is a journalist, author and political commentator, who has worked for long stretches at the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail. He has written biographies of Thomas Carlyle, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Enoch Powell, and reviews and writes on politics for the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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