The importance of regional air links and the damaging impact of Air Passenger Duty have both been highlighted as key issues for consideration by the Airports Commission.
Flybe, in its submission to the commission which is considering three options for airport expansion in the southeast, says the decision about a new runway should be based primarily on strategic and economic ‘national’ considerations.
The regional carrier, which sold its Gatwick slots to easyJet and is facing increased competition on new routes from London City airport, says that there “does not appear to be any clear and verified ‘show-stoppers’ that would automatically rule out any of the short-listed schemes”.
The shortlisted options are a third runway at Heathrow, a runway extension at the west London hub and a second runway at Gatwick.
The airline says it unable to express a clear preference publicly as much depends on the commercial terms offered “and we have not yet had sufficient clarity on these”.
However, Flybe confirms that it would be interested in re-building operations from Gatwick if a new runway is given the green light, subject to a sufficient number of affordable slots being made available for regional airlines at attractive times of the day.
Flybe’s evidence – seen by Travel Weekly - describes the weakest areas of the commission’s work to-date as including:
- Clarity regarding regional access to new slots coming out of new runway infrastructure.
- Extraction of binding commitments over such slots.
- Its decision to “shy away” from any engagement over the “crucial issue” of the form and structure of APD.
Flybe points out work it has carried out demonstrates how changes to the scale of APD and the way in which it is raised “could materially improve the value of a new runway to the UK’s regions, and our millions of regional customers”.
The airline adds: “Our overriding view remains that in the absence of a thorough analysis on APD the commission is not fully factoring in the potential benefits from guaranteed and affordable regional connectivity at a new or enhanced national hub."
Flybe also suggests the use of RAF Northolt, to the north of Heathrow, as a potential location for regional air services.
The military airfield, which is also used by private business aircraft, could “single-handedly deliver some beneficial outcomes” while new runway capacity is being built.
“We refer to the temporary or permanent use of RAF Northolt for regional air services,” Flybe says, suggesting this option has been overlooked by the commission.
“We believe this facility, which is owned and operated by the government, offers significant potential and we would be very keen to explore with the commission and/or government what might be done to realise that potential quickly and cost effectively.
“We know there is enormous appetite for such a solution amongst many of the regions we serve.”
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