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Commission closes to new arrivals as airport meets local turbulence

Commission closes to new arrivals as airport meets local turbulence

🕔09.Feb 2015

The Airports Commission’s consultation on its assessment of three proposals for additional runway capacity in the south east closed last week. During the 12 week consultation the Commission estimates that it received over 50,000 responses. Full details will be published in the summer of 2015 alongside the Commission’s final report – in other words after the General Election, writes Kevin Johnson.

Birmingham Airport Chief Executive Paul Kehoe said:

We are clear that the answer is a network of national long-haul airports, plugging all regions into global growth opportunities, not an even larger hub at Heathrow which would draw more business into an already overheated South East.

Kehoe is backing Gatwick which the Airport says:

…is the only option being offered by Sir Howard Davies that would provide this competition, benefitting passengers at Birmingham, Heathrow, Gatwick and beyond.

New analysis of the Airports Commission’s research raises serious concerns that the potential negative effects of Heathrow expansion on our regional economies has not been properly considered. According to this analysis, Heathrow expansion would be more likely to exacerbate rather than mitigate regional imbalances.

Jerry Blackett, Chief Executive of the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce said:

Our region has a larger trade surplus with North America than any other in the UK, and is the only region to have a positive balance of trade with China. This is down to the strength of our financial services, manufacturing and engineering sectors and more, all of which are supported by our long-haul connectivity to markets around the world. The right decision for our region is the one that allows more businesses to fly direct, not one that could draw more business to Heathrow and the South East.

Alex Burrows, Infrastructure Ambassador for BPS Birmingham and a Technical Director at Atkins Global commented:

The Davies Commission has managed to buy the Government time to avoid committing to a decision that needs to be made. The final choice will come after the election, still with a huge amount of debate and criticism.

Birmingham Airport made a valiant attempt to be counted but ultimately the battle is between Heathrow and Gatwick: global superhub or multiple airports sharing the load.

From our perspective in the West Midlands, our local airport will be extremely well-placed to play a national role, providing global connectivity, with the arrival of High Speed 2 in just over a decade. There is every reason to imagine that it could take the load as part of a network of major British airports that are interconnected by fast rail connections, providing options for the vast majority of Britons without needing to drive halfway across the country to catch a flight.

Perhaps this is another symptom of the London or bust mentality that has created the need to focus on rebalancing the economy. But no rebalancing can happen while decision-making is still couched in the London-centric thinking being demonstrated when it comes to long term aviation strategy.

Aviation policy surely should be intrinsically linked with high speed rail policy. Not to have done is a missed opportunity.

Birmingham Airport says it has its busiest year in 2014. It handled 9,707,449 passengers in 2014; an increase of 6.5% compared to 2013, including a 7.2% in long-haul. Meanwhile, last week it was revealed that Flybe has cut five routes from the airport, but has promised there will be no job loses with more flights coming on stream. It will operate the same number of aircraft.

The Airport came in for criticism last week in the House of Commons. Caroline Spelman, the Conservative MP for Meriden, secured an Adjournment Debate to discuss changes to flight paths at the Airport following the runway extension. A number of trials have been running with a final decision to be taken by the Civil Aviation Authority later in the year.

The former Cabinet Member said:

It is amazing what an Adjournment debate in Parliament can achieve. On Friday, I had a call from the chief executive of Birmingham airport telling me about some significant changes to the plans for new flight paths….

…the overall process of undertaking the flight path trials has been poor, with long-running problems….There have been many inadequacies in the trials… The local community feels it has not been listened to, particularly in the rejection of its proposal for an option 6a, an alternative flight path that would have minimised noise nuisance. It made detailed submissions to Birmingham airport, highlighting how a departure route that included a turn at altitude could closely replicate the existing noise preferential route and accommodate the extended runway. That option gained a great deal of community support but was rejected by Birmingham airport without any meaningful qualification.

It did not help that the airport announced that it would review the membership of the airport consultative committee, which is made up of local representatives, just before the trial. The airport proposed to remove the residents associations, parish councils and civic societies from the main committee and place them in a sub-committee, with only the chair of the sub-committee remaining on the revised airport consultative committee to represent the views of the community. That sidelined the organisations that best served the community’s views. Indeed, as the elected Member of Parliament, I was allowed to attend only as an observer.

As a result of pressure from the council leader, however, the airport has agreed to maintain the groups on the airport consultative committee at least while the trials continue. The airport has also taken other steps to improve community dialogue, including by committing to producing community updates throughout the process.

The impact of the flight path trials has been increased noise pollution and a breakdown in the previously positive relationship between the local community and the airport. I welcome the news that the airport has agreed to consider a modified option 6, but we must ensure that there is a trial period to test the modified route and continuous work further to improve airport services, with consideration given to nearby communities.

As [Mark Garnier MP said earlier in the debate], the airport is an important attribute and asset of regional and indeed national significance to our country. However, the management of the airport and the adjustments to its expansion in future need to be carried out in hand in hand with the community most directly affected by it, and it is important that the re-engagement with the community rebuilds public trust.

Responding, Transport Minister Robert Goodwill MP commented:

.. it is worth noting that Birmingham airport has tried to respond proactively to the views expressed by its local community. I was sorry to learn of the concerns about the airport’s consultative committee. It is clearly in the interests of the airport to establish and maintain good relations with those in its local communities, many of whom are also its customers. I appreciate that that is not always easy, but I hope that the airport will listen to the concerns raised tonight and will act on them.

Speaking about the Airport he said:

Although this debate has rightly concentrated on the concerns of some of [Mrs Spelman’s] constituents, we should not ignore the vital contribution made by Birmingham airport to the regional and local economies. The aviation policy framework cited Birmingham airport as an example of an ambitious regional airport, with its ongoing programme to develop more long-haul services that would help boost the West Midlands economy and help ease capacity constraints at south-east airports.

I am sure that the House welcomed the announcement of a Birmingham service to New York in 2015 and increases to services to Delhi and Dubai. We should also not overlook the inaugural flights from Beijing to Birmingham airport in July and August last year. Those were very significant as the first direct flights from Beijing to a UK regional airport. Taken together, they increase the connectivity with important trading partners that a major city such as Birmingham, and the West Midlands region, requires.

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