Opinion: Now's the time to act on airport capacity

Opinion: Now's the time to act on airport capacity

Stephen D'Alfonso, Abta head of public affairs, says with MPs supporting Heathrow in increasing numbers the industry must make the case for responsible expansion

The summer holidays are now just a memory for most of us.

MPs have returned to Westminster, Labour has elected a new leader, serious policy discussions are unfolding on spending plans and Europe, and the Westminster village will shortly decamp to Bournemouth, Brighton, Manchester, and Aberdeen for the travelling show that is the annual autumn party conference season.

One policy area that will certainly be on the minds of many MPs is airport capacity.

With the government promising to respond to the Airports Commission’s recommendation by the end of this year, the window to influence is closing, and I suspect a decision has been all but made.

This is a good thing – the industry has been calling for urgent action for five years, and it is good to see that urgency filtering through to Westminster.   

Since 2012, Abta has commissioned the respected research agency ComRes to ask MPs whether or not they agreed with the following statement: "The UK risks being left behind competitively if a comprehensive plan to increase airport capacity is not adopted in the next 12 months."

In 2012, 71% of those asked agreed. In 2013 and 2014, the number remained static at seven in ten MPs (70% in 2013, 70% in July 2014 and 69% in October 2014).

However, earlier this year, and in the aftermath of the General Election, that number rose by 8 percentage points from October 2014 to 77%.

The rise is notable, and reflects a view widely held by industry, and increasingly in Westminster, that the UK’s airport capacity crunch in the southeast is becoming critical.

It also likely reflects the reality that the vast majority of MPs – aware that the work of the Airports Commission is completed with a recommendation made – believe that action has been delayed for too long.

This is certainly the view of the UK’s Aviation Minister, who told Abta’s Travel Matters Conference in June that the government will “take the decision that has been put off for far too long” on airports, while arguing that “too many tough decisions on transport have been delayed or deferred.”

Support for action on airport capacity seems to be growing most quickly on the government’s backbenches.

In the 2015 ComRes poll, Conservative MPs were particularly concerned that urgent airport capacity action is needed, with 83% of those asked agreeing. The number of Tory MPs who agreed in 2012 was 72%; this represents a full 11 point rise.

There is clear momentum in Westminster for action, and as reported in Travel Weekly last week, polls seem to indicate that local support for Heathrow expansion also seems to be growing.

The industry has a job to do to build trust among those that would be most affected by expansion, and government, that London’s airport capacity can expand responsibly. We will continue to do this.

However, the ComRes polling also highlights that the Government can take comfort that political consensus is growing behind the delivery of a plan for increased airport capacity, despite siren voices that might argue otherwise.

Abta will continue to take this message to MPs, in Westminster, and at each of the party conferences in the coming weeks. 

ComRes surveyed 150 MPs on the ComRes MPs Panel between 21st May and 3rd July. Data were weighted to reflect the exact composition of the House of Commons in terms of party representation and regional constituency distribution.

ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

Full data tables are available at comres.co.uk


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