Policy for regional airports ‘so far on the back burner’

The Advertiser Series: ‘BEING IGNORED’: Durham Tees Valey Airport ‘BEING IGNORED’: Durham Tees Valey Airport

THE former boss of Durham Tees Valley Airport has launched a scathing attack on the Government’s aviation policy, accusing it of ignoring regional airports.

Craig Richmond, chief executive of Peel Airports, made a series of blistering criticisms, including lambasting the Government for the sharp rise in air passenger duty (APD), as the company made its formal response to a consultation on future aviation policy.

The firm, which used to run DTVA before it was acquired by Peel Holdings, owns and runs John Lennon Airport (JLA), near Liverpool, and Robin Hood Airport, near Doncaster.

The news comes as the North East Chamber of Commerce (NECC) launched a more measured criticism of aviation policy, promising to lobby the Government over the APD issue. But Mr Richmond, who joined Peel in 2010, was far more blistering in his attack.

He said: “I have worked in many countries, but I’ve never seen aviation policy so far on the back burner.

“It’s disheartening to see the lack of attention when other countries recognise its importance to high-tech industries, manufacturing and moving people around.

“And this Government’s attitude to regional airports is almost ‘we will get around to you when we can’. We are ignored.”

Mr Richmond also took the Department for Transport to task for failing to set aside ringfenced slots at Heathrow for regional airports and hiking air passenger duty (APD), saying it had hit northern airports particularly hard.

He also accused the department of neglecting regional airports, which were mentioned only five times in the 98-page document, and shelving any policy change while possible Heathrow expansion was decided.

The comments come after the end of the department’s draft aviation policy framework, a document which is supposed to shape how airports can grow in the years ahead while combating climate change and noise.

But any changes have now been postponed, pending the conclusions of a commission, headed by Sir Howard Davies, which is exploring the divisive issue of a third Heathrow runway.

The report is not expected to be published until after the 2015 General Election, allowing the Coalition, which vetoed a Heathrow expansion in this Parliament, to dodge the contentious issue.

Mr Richmond said: “We are disappointed it is going to take three years.

“Yes, Heathrow is important but why not pay some attention to the regions in the interim?”

Last week, the Treasury ruled out any cut in APD before 2015, insisting airlines got a good deal because they pay no fuel tax or VAT on flights.

The tax will rise by £2.9bn by 2014. There was no mention of a suggestion floated in the summer that congested airports in the South pay higher APD, to persuade airlines to use the likes of JLA instead.

But Mr Richmond said the tax made up a quarter of the price of a £40 to £50 flight from John Lennon, adding: “The airlines say this is killing us.”

Responding to the policy framework consultation, the NECC warned the Government must take bold action if it is to maximise the economic potential of the UK’s airports to rebalance the economy, something which is particularly important to the North-East because of the region’s strength in exports.

NECC chief executive James Ramsbotham said: “APD hinders the development of new connections from the North-East to key international markets, making trade from this region more difficult.

“In its present form, APD will stifle the development of new air routes from the North-East and place into jeopardy the connections upon which exporters depend.

“A reform of aviation policy that gives greater consideration to the vital role that regional airports play could and should be implemented in order to hasten economic recovery, rebalancing and growth.

“This could also help to alleviate pressure on crowded airports in the South-East of England.”

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