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London can’t wait: Government must act to unlock Stansted’s potential

Tim Hawkins, Corporate Affairs Director, Manchester Airport Group (MAG)

As owners of London Stansted Airport, we have seen passenger numbers and our network of international connections grow rapidly over recent years. Offering more choice and lower fares for Londoners has been one of the cornerstones of our business, fuelled by ambitious airlines and Open Skies access across Europe.

Naturally, Brexit is a key consideration as we make our plans for the years ahead. We agree with London First that as a priority, Government must secure an interim aviation agreement, which would allow flights to continue to operate within this liberal framework from UK airports, until a new UK-EU Open Skies deal is reached.

But more broadly, Brexit means that London’s economy now needs to look to the wider world, even more than it currently does. New trading links will be forged and existing relationships need to be strengthened. More and better connections from London are needed. Yet the capital’s two biggest airports have very little capacity to accommodate new services. They are full.

Put simply, we cannot wait for a new runway to relieve this pressure. That is at least 10 years away. Government must look at ways that it can support making full use of the runway capacity we do currently have, at airports like London Stansted. There are two things that MAG would like to see happen.

Firstly, the number of passengers that London Stansted is allowed to serve each year is currently capped at 35 million. That constraint needs to be lifted to allow the airport to take the strain over the coming years and keep fares competitive for passengers right across London. Lifting it now will give airlines the certainty they require to start planning their long term future at London Stansted and our shareholders confidence to invest. Crucially for our local communities, the airport can grow to its full potential without exceeding existing environmental limits.

Secondly, the train service between the City of London and Stansted needs urgent improvement. We know it.  Businesses know it.  The Airports Commission knew it when it recommended ‘urgent’ improvements in 2013.  And four years on, the Government knows it too.

Passengers and airlines want fast, frequent and reliable rail services. Consumers want competition, choice and low fares. London needs more and better connections now to remain competitive.

Modest investment in this train line could achieve all of these things. Making it ‘Stansted in 40’, shaving almost ten minutes off today’s journey times, would encourage airlines to invest and grow new business routes from Stansted, utilising the spare capacity that we have on our runway.

Taking strategic steps like this will improve London’s links to major world economic centres as we enter a new era of international trade. There has never been a more vital time for this to happen. Indeed, Government’s commitments to a global Britain require it.

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