Flybe boss throws down gauntlet to government

Three key issues are holding back the UK aviation industry and the wider economy, according to boss of Flybe.

CEO Saad Hammad accused the government of failing to have a “coherent or holistic national aviation policy or action programme”.

He pointed to “punitive” Air Passenger Duty and called on Whitehall to follow the Irish government and abolish the tax.

Hammad attacked the government for continuing to ignore the importance of regional aviation connectivity in its aspirations to create a ‘northern powerhouse’.

He also stressed that the government could no longer afford to stall on the issues of airport capacity and expansion at either Heathrow or Gatwick.

Giving the opening speech at the first British Irish Airports Expo at Birmingham’s NEC yesterday, the regional airline chief contrasted the Irish government having published a national aviation policy in 2015, with a clear set of actions to drive the development and growth of Ireland’s aviation sector – a measure the UK has failed to address.

“This I believe is a mistake and one which the whole aviation industry should be arguing to have corrected,” he said. Hammad again called for APD to be ditched completely or at the very least made more equitable.

He argued that the air tax is levied disproportionately on regional flights and a typical domestic passenger can be charged up to 19 times the tax per mile of a passenger on a long haul flight.

“APD is not just a barrier to regional development – it is also a barrier to tourism,” Hammad said.

Addressing regional flights, he added: “The government-funded £43 billion HS2 will not be able to fulfil this aspiration in the foreseeable future. It will not reach Manchester for at least 17 years.

“The Regional Air Connectivity Fund that focuses on start-up routes during their initial phases needs to be bigger. The fund contributed only £7 million this year to start-up regional routes. It also needs to fund permanent connectivity as well as additional frequency investments on existing regional air routes.”

When a decision is finally made on additional airport capacity in the south-east, Hammad requested the government make a commitment that any incremental runway capacity features guaranteed and affordable slots for regional routes served by smaller aircraft.

“A future hub airport in London needs to be a truly ‘national’ asset rather than something built solely to serve south-east-based passengers or global passengers connecting through the south-east,” he said.

Flybe is prepared to operate scheduled services from RAF Northolt as an interim solution until a new runway is built in 15-20 years’ time. This would give UK regions some of the immediate connectivity benefits of a new runway with none of the environmental disadvantages, he argued.

“I believe we, as the voices of the industry, need to continue to lobby government hard to deliver meaningful change not only for the industry – but more importantly for the benefit of the travelling public,” added Hammad.

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