Aviation minister Robert Goodwill has stressed that the sector must continue to play its part in the government’s deficit reduction plans.
He was speaking at the end of a Westminster debate on aviation strategy prompted by a report in May by the Commons transport committee which called for expansion of Heathrow.
His comments came a day after Treasury minister Nicky Morgan ruled out abolishing Air Passenger Duty on the basis it would not be sensible for the UK’s economic recovery.
Goodwill repeated his backing for the growth of regional airports “and we recognise the importance of regional air connectivity to London in supporting regional economies and contributing to national cohesion”.
But Goodwill added: “Aviation is a challenging topic. Successive governments have struggled with how best to continue to gain the economic benefits it brings while restraining its impact on local people.”
He claimed that the government has established the right foundations “to move forward, gain consensus and secure the benefits aviation brings for the nation”.
The Davies commission is to produce an interim report by the end of the year on airport capacity but will not deliver its final recommendations until after the next General Election in 2015.
Labour MP and transport committee chairman Louise Ellman called for decisive action and accused Parliament of having “shied away” from whether to allow additional airport capacity in the south-east.
“That is a prime example of a failure to recognise our infrastructure needs,” she said. “The Davies commission will produce an interim report at the end of this year with recommendations for immediate action to improve the use of existing runway capacity over the next five years, as well as a short list of options to address capacity over the longer term, but the commission’s final report will not be published until after the general election in 2015.
“We must act decisively on this issue before we lose our competitive edge as a global hub for aviation.
“The commission must provide a robust and independent evidence base for future decisions, as well as recommendations for action.
“The failure to take a decision has consequences for the UK because it puts our competitiveness and economic success at risk.
“When the Davies commission reports, it will be time to decide, and that will be the challenge for the 2015 Parliament.
“I hope that today’s debate assists the House in identifying the key issues so that a conclusion that is in the interests of the UK can be reached.”
Labour MP Graham Stringer called for a ‘APD holiday” for three years to allow airports with spare capacity such as Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol to attract more long haul routes from India, China and Thailand.
“There would be no loss to the Treasury, just gain when people arrived in this country and spent money, because the routes do not currently exist,” he said.
North Thanet Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale called for under-used Manston airport in Kent to be considered as an option for relieving capacity at Gatwick and Heathrow.
He said: “On the doorstep of London there is a place called Manston, in Kent. It has the fourth longest runway in the country – it has taken Concorde and wide-body jets – and it is available now.
“I am not suggesting for one moment that Manston could or should be another London airport, but I believe it could have a major role to play.”
Other MPs backed London mayor Boris Johnson’s call for a new hub to be built in the Thames estuary with Harwich and North Essex Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin calling it a “no-brainer”.
The Davies commission must not get sucked back into a shorter-term view and propose a patch-and-mend solution – a runway here and a runway there, he said.
“I believe that Manston will have a big role to play, particularly in the interim, because it will take time to build a four-runway airport in the Thames estuary.
“We have to solve this problem once and for all and to take the really big strategic decision that will ensure that London and the south-east remain a globally connected part of the world, and that London remains the global city it deserves to be,” said Jenkin.
Ellman concluded the debate by claiming that there is “overwhelming support” for additional hub capacity to support the economy.
“This issue will not go away; it is about the future of our country,” she added.
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