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Business calls for action on UK’s air connections

Influential business group, London First, has called for urgent action from government to secure the UK’s position as a global trading hub – in addition to delivering on Heathrow expansion.

The new report, ‘No time to waste: Keeping London’s airports connected in a post-Brexit world’, warns that London airports will be near capacity by 2025. To maintain the UK’s global position, the government must put a pro-growth aviation policy in place that enables proposals for additional capacity to come forward in a much more timely and demand-led way.

Richard Dilks, transport director at London First, said: “Government’s backing for expansion at Heathrow was hugely welcome and a significant boost to British business, but it took 50 years to get to this stage. Government has to step up and help get the UK into the best possible shape ahead of Brexit, by supporting investment and recognising that the UK’s global standing requires action beyond building a vital new runway at Heathrow.”

The report’s recommendations include:

  • prioritise new aviation agreements to ensure the legal framework for air services with the EU, US and other countries continues once the UK leaves the EU. It won’t matter how many runways we have if we fail to negotiate the legal rights to keep planes in the sky.
  • enhance access for existing airports by improving the range, speed and quality of their rail links. Crossrail 2 would enable a step-change in services to Stansted and now needs explicit backing from government, while Stansted also needs immediate steps to improve services ahead of Crossrail 2. The Brighton Main Line, which serves Gatwick, needs significant Network Rail investment. Western rail access to Heathrow should be confirmed and detailed feasibility work should take place on Southern rail access to Heathrow, and on a new Elizabeth Line station at City airport – which could be paid for privately.
  • modernise UK airspace to improve capacity and reliability while reducing harmful emissions. UK airspace is still run on similar principles to the post-war origins of civil aviation – but modern planes contain technology which can transform what is possible by enabling them to fly much more precise routes. Without change, the Department for Transport forecasts that by 2030 there will be 3,100 days’ worth of delays – fifty times more than now – along with 8,000 cancellations a year.
  • lift planning caps which artificially hold back other London airports from making the most of existing infrastructure. Stansted currently serves 25 million passengers a year and on current growth rates will hit its planning cap of 35 million passengers by the early 2020s. Lifting this constraint would allow Stansted to make full use of its single runway, providing capacity for around an additional 10 million passengers a year.
  • ensure the UK border is welcoming, as well as secure. Long queues and inefficient processes send a terrible signal to people wanting to come to the UK to visit or do business – for whom the airport security queue is London’s front door. Modernised working practices, streamlined visa application processes and new technologies like more e-gates are needed if we are to ensure the right people are let in as well as the wrong ones kept out.
  • looking to the longer term, there is clear demand for further runway capacity in the South East beyond the additional runway now supported by the government at Heathrow. In his response to the Airports Commission, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling himself acknowledged that Gatwick had made a “well-developed and compelling case for new capacity”. Other airports like Stansted could in future also make a strong case for expansion. The forthcoming Government aviation strategy must enable future proposals for additional capacity at London’s airports to come forward in a much more timely and market-based way than has been possible in the past.

A pdf of the report is available here

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