Following today’s publication of the House of Commons Transport Committee Aviation Strategy report (Friday 10 May) and its rejection of plans for a new Thames Estuary Airport the Freight Transport Association (FTA) has supported the Committee’s view that expansion of capacity at Heathrow is essential to maintain London’s international hub status.
As part of its evidence before the Committee as part of this Inquiry in January 2013 – FTA stated that due to its location, close to the UK’s economic centre, London, and its connection to global passenger flight networks meant that it considered Heathrow as the only UK airport that can fulfil the vital role it plays – keeping UK goods and passengers connected to scores of global destinations; and thereby supporting UK trade.
FTA also said while UK regional airports play a vital role for the UK economy they are not able to replicate Heathrow’s role as a major international hub in terms of the wide range of services that British industry needs to compete internationally. Even population centres such as Rome and Berlin do not support such a Hub for aviation; it is therefore inconceivable that anywhere in the UK but London could do so.
In light of this, FTA suggested that Heathrow should be allowed to expand – specifically via the development of a third runway, as this would appear to be the only cost effective option for addressing the capacity problem.
However, despite the Transport Committee acceptance of FTA’s evidence, the Association has voiced its disappointment that the importance of freight, which represents over a third of UK imports and exports by value, has not has not been more fully considered in the report, particularly in view of its contribution to the economy and wider aviation sector more broadly.
Aviation policy can only be effective if freight issues are given full consideration; particularly given that freight carried on board passenger aircraft in many cases makes international air line routes more viable; and that logistics is a vital component to the UK’s route network and overall economy both as an employer and in terms of the economic activity reliant on it.
Chris Welsh, FTA General Manager of Global and European Policy, said:
“The headline findings of the Committee are welcome – as FTA said to the Committee we are open to the possibility of a future airport elsewhere but Heathrow is our Hub airport now, it is full now; and as things stand today Heathrow is the best case for a London Hub airport.”
“The Committee is correct to draw attention to the poor surface access by road and rail to London’s airports – and given that Heathrow is the busiest freight airport in the country, and so much economic activity relies upon air freight across the UK, it is critical to the economic recovery that the nation can demonstrate it is open for business with a smooth and reliable journey from our international gateways.
“It is just a little disappointing that the importance of air freight is somewhat underplayed; and we would encourage the Government to work with industry to fully understand the importance of air freight to the UK economy.”