Flybe boss calls for 'air hub' for UK regions
Domestic airline Flybe's chief executive has called on the new Secretary of State for Transport to place a UK-wide transport policy at the heart of the Government's economic growth strategy.
In an "unashamedly" regionally-focused open letter to Transport Minister Patrick McLoughlin, Flybe boss Jim French said that a national aviation hub was crucial for regional access connectivity around the UK and beyond.
"It's no longer a matter of if there is to be new runway capacity, but where and when. It can't be ducked if Britain is to be a world economic player and it is more than a little depressing to see that, once again, the issue has been kicked into the long grass."
Mr French said: "Whatever is decided regarding location, it's vital that any new capacity is seen as a national asset and not just a London airport."
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While pressure is mounting on the Government to find a long-term solution to address capacity, Mr French said it must address the issue of regional connectivity "as a matter of urgency."
He has called for access between regional airports and existing national hubs to be protected, calling for the Civil Aviation Authority to be empowered to guarantee links.
Mr French said: "In 1990, there were 18 direct domestic services to London Heathrow. Today, there are just six left – from Manchester, Newcastle, Belfast, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow. That's simply not good enough.
"Regional connectivity must be protected for the benefit of regional economies and connectivity to markets. For far too long, under successive governments, there has been a London-centric focus on transport policy.
"London is a vital economic driver contributing some 20% of the UK's GDP, but that can't be at the expense of the other 80%," he said.
"Nor should a world of expertise, energy and business-drive beyond the capital be ignored. Our regional economies not only need to connect with London, but also other UK regions."
Earlier this year, Exeter-based Flybe established a regional network hub, giving passengers more link flights, via Manchester airport. Mr French said that while such a solution served as a "relief valve," he stressed a "world-class" international hub airport was vital for the UK economy in the long-term.
In his letter, Mr French urged the Government to halt its UK transport infrastructure "merry-go-round" which saw Mr McLoughlin become the third coalition MP and seventh politician since 2007 to hold the transport portfolio.
He said the Chancellor, Business Department and Department for Transport (DfT) had to work more closely, and put the country before short-term popularity.
A DfT spokesman said: "We have been clear that maintaining the UK's status as a leading global aviation hub is fundamental to our long term international competitiveness.
"But we are also mindful of the need to take full account of the social, environmental and other impacts of any expansions in airport capacity.
"Therefore the Government has asked Sir Howard Davies to chair an independent commission tasked with identifying and recommending to Government options for maintaining this country's status as an international hub for aviation.
"We have also been clear that we recognise the vital contributions that airport outside London make to local and regional economies, their important role in maintaining the UK's air connectivity, and their potential for helping accommodate forecast growth in demand for aviation in the UK."