Ministers have 'mental shutters' on Heathrow

Ministers have 'mental shutters' on Heathrow

The association representing all the major airlines in the UK believes the government has developed "mental shutters" when it comes to air travel and is demanding ministers consider "all options" in developing an aviation policy.

The call from the Board of Airline Representatives in the UK (BAR-UK) comes as the industry ramps up the pressure over the lack of an aviation policy and ban on runway building at Heathrow and in the southeast.

BAR-UK chief executive Mike Carrivick says: "It is perverse the government proposes to spend more then £30 billion on the HS2 [high-speed] rail project while turning down the aviation industry's intention to self-fund the capacity urgently required at the UK's hub airport [Heathrow]."

Writing in today's Travel Weekly Business:am, Carrivick details the public subsidies and payments to other transport sectors - £2.26 billion to bus and coach companies last year and £4.6 billion to the train operating companies.He asks: "Why does air transport get treated differently?"

Carrivick points out: "All aviation costs incurred in the UK have to be funded by the airlines, airports and their customers. No subsidies are granted for air travel."

He says the lack of expansion at Heathrow means "the UK's competitors are expanding at the expense of the UK", and he dismisses the government commitment to "a series of further consultations" as "a public sign of indecision".

Carrivick calls on the government to "consider all options as quickly as possible".

He has spoken out as a study by economic consultancy Oxford Economics for Heathrow operator BAA suggests the shortfall in London's airport capacity could cost the UK £100 billion in GDP over two decades.

The UK economy could be losing £8.5 billion a year in potential GDP by 2021, according to Oxford Economics. Its report warns of "a substantial economic impact in both the medium and long terms" without new runways in the southeast.

The Tory Party committed itself to no third runway at Heathrow ahead of the last election and included this promise in its election manifesto.

This gelled with Liberal Democrat policy and when the parties went into coalition two years ago the 'no expansion in the southeast' policy was written into the coalition agreement, binding the government until the next election.

However, senior government figures appear increasingly keen to prepare the way for a change of policy. Chancellor George Osborne said in March that Britain "must confront the lack of airport capacity in the southeast".

Transport minister Theresa Villiers said in an interview published yesterday: "We have to make a decision as a government based on the evidence of what is best for our economy."

She said: "If [Heathrow operator] BAA want to come along and argue for a a different approach, we'll consider theirrepresentations and the evidence they submit."

The government has previously indicated a third runway is not on the agenda.

Ministers had been due to publish an aviation strategy framework document this spring but this was delayed until the summer. It is understood this was to avoid potential conflict within the coalition.

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