By Michael Clarke

THE trade has given a mixed response to the Government’s
long-awaited aviation white paper, revealed this week.

Transport secretary Alistair Darling’s plans for a
third Heathrow runway by 2020 and an extra Stansted runway by 2012, in addition
to extra runways for Birmingham and Edinburgh and expansion for 16 other
airports, was welcomed by the trade as a step in the right direction.

British Airways chief Rod Eddington hailed the paper
as an “effective forward-looking aviation policy”, while Sir Richard Branson
praised Darling for his “courage”. No change in Air Passenger Duty was also
welcomed.

The trade was relieved Heathrow was included after fears
that it would be ditched over environmental worries, but ultimately the
industry would have preferred Heathrow to take precedence over Stansted.

ABTA chief executive Ian Reynolds said: “Overall, it’s
positive. It’s not what we asked for, but better than what we had feared. The
extra capacity will be good for both leisure and business passengers.”

However, the Guild of Business Travel Agents said the
Government had “squandered” the chance of securing the UK’s aviation future.

Chief executive Philip Carlisle said: “The majority of
international travellers to and from the UK go through Heathrow and the chances
of many of them using Stansted is remote.”

Sandy MacPherson, speaking in his role as
vice-president of the Scottish Passenger Agents Association, claimed regional
travellers will be disadvantaged by the Heathrow delay.

“Stansted will be a fat lot of good as far as the
regions are concerned,” he said. “The longer it takes to build more Heathrow
capacity, the more impetus foreign airports like Charles de Gaulle and Schiphol
will gain.”

Stansted expansion is also unlikely to help the main
tour operators, whose charter airlines prefer to use Gatwick, Luton and
regional airports. Gatwick will not get a new runway until after 2019, when a
legal agreement preventing expansion at the airport runs out, and then only if
Heathrow fails to meet its environmental targets.

MyTravel Airways chief operating officer Tim Jeans
described the decision as a “gift” to the low-costs.

The charters are urging the Government, the local
council and airport users to get round the table to see if a compromise can be
found, but until then anger is growing at the possibility of helping to pay for
Stansted.

Thomas Cook Airlines head of external affairs George
Blundell-Pound said: “Why should we pay for Ryanair and EasyJet’s expansion?”

Blundell-Pound said joint legal action from airlines
was “probable” if cross-funding was approved, and called for the break-up of
BAA.