The Government today confirmed a postponement of an eagerly-awaited consultation on future UK airport capacity needs.
Announcing the consultation would be put back to "later this year" Transport Secretary Justine Greening said an aviation solution was needed that was sustainable "not only economically and environmentally but also politically".
It has been suggested that the coalition Government has been divided over possible plans to build new airports or expand existing ones, including Heathrow in west London and that this has led to the consultation delay.
A "call for evidence" on how to maintain the UK's international connectivity and hub status was to have been published alongside an aviation policy framework document that Ms Greening did bring out today.
Airlines, airports and big business reacted with dismay to the postponement of the consultation, with the British Air Transport Association saying the Government "cannot keep on kicking this issue into the long grass while our competitors gain at our expense".
Publishing the policy framework document today, Ms Greening said it would be followed, later this year, by issuing an open call for evidence "inviting stakeholders to submit specific, evidence-based proposals for consideration in identifying the medium and long-term steps needed to meet the Government's economic and environmental objectives for aviation".
The Government plans include the following proposals:
- Improving efficiency at the border, including a review of the UK's visa regime, bringing forward the recruitment of 70 additional border staff at Heathrow and working with the US authorities to look at the options for speeding up entry into the US
- £500 million towards a western rail link to Heathrow, which is in addition to £1.4 billion already being invested to improve surface access to airports
- Further liberalisation of the UK aviation market to encourage foreign airlines to develop routes from airports other than Heathrow
- Improving reliability and reducing delays at Heathrow
- Incentivising noise reduction though higher landing fees for noisier aircraft at unsociable hours and higher penalties for breaching noise limits at any time
– Justine Greening MP, Transport Secretary
"This framework aims to strike a balance between allowing the aviation industry to make the most of our current capacity, while also recognising the need for a tough regime to tackle levels of noise experienced by residents on the ground.
All those involved in aviation had hoped, at the very least, that they could make their views known about future airport policy when the now-delayed call for evidence came out.
As well as calls for the revival of the shelved plan for an extra, third, runway at Heathrow, pro-expansionists have also urged expansion of Stansted and Gatwick airports.
There are also two Thames Estuary new airport schemes - the "Boris Island" plan backed by London Mayor Boris Johnson and the £50 billion project put forward by architect Lord Foster.
Simon Buck, chief executive of the British Air Transport Association, said: "It is vital for the UK's economic prosperity that we have an aviation policy that addresses the needs of all the UK.
"The Government cannot keep on kicking this issue into the long grass while our competitors gain at our expense."
Virgin Atlantic chief executive Steve Ridgway said:
– Steve Ridgeway, Chief Executive, Virgin Atlantic Airways
This policy framework is long overdue, and now it is unveiled without addressing the key question - what does the Government think about options for airport capacity?
"While the UK dithers, our international competitors race ahead. Research has shown that if our hub capacity continues to be constrained, it is likely to reduce economic activity in the UK by £8.5 billion a year by 2021 and lower employment by almost 150,000."