Opinion: An open letter to new transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin

Dear transport secretary,

Congratulations on your appointment as secretary of state for transport.

I am sure that you are looking forward to working with the new tourism, transport and economic secretaries and ministers, who will be making crucial decisions affecting our sector, the aviation sector, in the months to come.

Transport – as you will know from your stint as a minister of state in the DfT back in the1980s – is certainly an interesting portfolio, with responsibility for roads, rail, shipping and, of course, aviation.

I am sure you will be aware that your colleague at the treasury, chancellor George Osborne, has made it clear that infrastructure is key to the UK coming out of recession.

Despite this, we still do not have an aviation policy, even though aviation requires no public sector investment. Conversely, billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money has to be made available to spend on the nation’s road and rail network.

It is obvious that if we want our economy to grow we need to develop better links to existing and emerging markets around the world. This requires air connectivity, comprising a vibrant point-to-point airport network and sufficient world class hub capacity.

Improving our connectedness with the rest of the world also means we need a much more competitive Air Passenger Duty tax regime; our aviation taxes are currently the highest in the world, and going up every year to 2015/16.

Taken together, it is a sad fact that more than two years into this coalition government, aviation remains in the dark about what a positive policy for this sector will look like.

On the plus side, the Airport Operators Association (AOA) has consistently argued for a timescale and deadline for decisions on aviation policy – and at last we have now got this.

We understand the DfT’s Aviation Policy Framework will report back in March 2013; and that the government’s newly created Independent Commission into maintaining the UK’s status as an international hub for aviation, headed by Sir Howard Davies, will publish its final report by the summer of 2015.

Regardless of the fact that it will have taken over five years to give some integrated policy direction on aviation, can we ask you , now we have some dates, to ensure that these deadlines are adhered to and preferably accelerated?

We also note that the Independent Commission final report is merely “for consideration by the government and opposition parties”, and therefore will not be binding.

Can I suggest that providing all the options on capacity are considered by the commission – and that the commission proceeds on the cross-party basis you are seeking – that you do more than just “consider” the final report?

Would it not be better for UK plc were you to actually state now that you will act on its findings if you remain in government after the 2015 general election? Without this commitment, there is no certainty that any of this will amount to any action.

In the AOA’s view, if the government really wants transport infrastructure to drive economic growth, then each and every UK airport should be allowed – encouraged even – to expand.

Airport expansion can be funded by the industry’s own private sector resources, but it requires a planning and regulatory framework which promotes sustainable development.

If you, in your tenure as transport secretary, can help deliver an aviation policy which enables the sector to grow, assisted by more competitive future APD rates, then this will mean that not only will you have stayed in your job substantially longer than your predecessors, but you really will have made decisions beneficial to the future prospects of UK plc.

With best wishes for your role as transport secretary, I remain,

Yours sincerely,
Darren Caplan
Chief executive, Airport Operators Association

Share article

View Comments

Jacobs Media Group is honoured to be the recipient of the 2020 Queen's Award for Enterprise.

The highest official awards for UK businesses since being established by royal warrant in 1965. Read more.