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  1. Politics
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7 December 2017updated 09 Sep 2021 6:10pm

“A third runway at Heathrow is not a silver bullet”

How can regional airports help the UK deliver on its air capacity needs? Three perspectives weigh in. 

By London Luton Airport

Nick Barton – CEO, London Luton Airport 

To ensure the UK remains a global, outward-looking trading nation in the near future there are two clear priorities for our aviation sector. Firstly, we need to secure an agreement with the EU which allows our airlines to continue to fly in and out of Europe. Recent reports suggested the Commission sees little room for creativity or a “bespoke” arrangement that the UK is hoping to negotiate. Therefore, the government must ensure the negotiations do not enable our European counterparts to squeeze airlines out of the market. 

Secondly, we need to ensure the UK’s airports have the capacity to keep up with soaring demand for air travel. Figures from The Department for Transport (DfT) predict that passenger demand will double to 535m passengers per year by 2050. Our aviation industry must be granted the conditions to help it capitalise on this growth potential and the benefits it will bring.

While the debate centres around a third runway at Heathrow there are less capital-intensive, quicker to enact solutions that will ease the UK’s air capacity woes. For example, the Transport Select Committee has identified inadequate rail links as a significant limiting factor for the ability of airports to meet their potential.  If the UK is to fully realise the economic potential of the aviation industry, airports must be supported by better transport links. 

London Luton Airport (LLA) is a prime example of an airport which can do more.  We are currently investing £150m to improve the airport and increase our annual capacity by 50 per cent by 2020. This expansion will almost double LLA’s economic contribution to £2.3bn per year by 2030 and create an additional 10,500 jobs over and above the 27,000 which exist today.  

But LLA’s ability to deliver this economic uplift and future capacity is being constrained by inadequate rail links.  LLA is London’s fastest growing airport but currently the only major London airport without the direct express-style rail links that London’s main airports, and so many airports on the continent, take for granted. 

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The DfT’s ongoing consultation on the new East Midlands Rail franchise offers the opportunity to deliver more fast trains to LLA by simply stopping trains that already pass through the station every day. Doing so would improve the journeys of the thousands of passengers who travel on the line, and drive significant economic growth in the local region and across the UK.

It also offers an opportunity for positive environmental impacts too.  More fast trains would see a greater use of public transport with an estimated 70,000 fewer car journeys and a reduction of CO2 emissions by 500 tonnes each year. 

These social, environmental and economic outcomes can be achieved through timetable change alone, meaning it requires no capital expenditure from government. What’s more, it would deliver £110m extra revenue for the rail industry.  At a time when the public purse strings are tighter than ever, this is an opportunity the government cannot not afford to ignore. 

There is a clear and immediate opportunity to deliver quick and inexpensive measures that will ensure the UK remains connected and competitive and, in doing so, help make sure the aviation sector can play its part in securing the nation’s prosperity.  

Let’s not miss that opportunity. 

Andy McDonald – Shadow Secretary of State for Transport 

Following the decision to leave the EU, supporting UK aviation has become more, not less, critical if the UK is to remain a global, outward-looking trading nation. 

A third runway at Heathrow remains subject to a Commons vote and, even if given the final go-ahead, it will not be completed for at least another 10-15 years. Heathrow is not a silver bullet for solving our air capacity constraints.

We face capacity challenges here and now. That’s why more needs to be done to support connectivity into and out of other airports across the UK to unlock existing unused capacity, and develop the huge potential they have. 

Richard Tunnicliffe – CBI Regional Director, East of England

As the government seeks to boost Britain’s economic prosperity, ensuring productivity is spread across the UK must be a priority. As set out in the CBI’s Unlocking  regional growth report, the prize for doing so is a £175bn boost to England’s economy over the next decade. Improving infrastructure to better connect our towns and cities with each other, as well as with the rest of the world, will play a key role in this. 

Businesses recognise the need to link the whole of the UK to international markets at a time when boosting UK trade is more important than ever. In welcoming the Heathrow expansion decision the CBI was clear that this must be the starting point for more strategic thinking on UK aviation, and businesses are therefore encouraged that the process to develop an aviation strategy is underway. With new capacity taking up to, and possibly beyond, a decade to deliver more intensive use of existing airport capacity is clearly needed. 

But there are steps that can be taken in the short term too. Regional airports are key to easing the capacity crunch but inadequate public transport links are a significant limiting factor in them realising their full potential.  One example is right on our doorstep; the re-letting of the new East Midlands Rail franchise offers the opportunity to deliver more fast trains to London Luton Airport by simply stopping trains that already pass through the station every day. Doing so will provide a significant boost in maximising our region’s growth and bringing local businesses closer to the world.


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