We need a firm decision on airport expansion, not another year of consultation, urges Simon Buck, chief executive of the British Air Transport Association.
As we continue to weather the global economic storm, one significant announcement by the chancellor ahead of the autumn statement received only modest coverage in the media. Nearly all the reporting missed the glaring hole in the government's plans. All those who care about investing in Britain's crumbling infrastructure would, on the face of it at least, have welcomed the chancellor's announcement of a national infrastructure plan, involving billions of pounds of investment in transport systems and links. What better way to equip Britain to trade its way out of crisis than by investing in links with trading partners, one might think?
The chancellor clearly recognises the importance of modern, efficient, national transport infrastructure to facilitate growth and investment in the wider economy but, astonishingly, is ignoring an absolutely critical area of infrastructure provision so desperately needed if Britain is to maintain its international competitiveness and global trading links.
British business is crying out for the government to permit airport expansion, especially in the capacity-constrained south-east region. If Britain is to win new business from the world's emerging markets, then we must be allowed to grow and invest private capital in our airport infrastructure. In that way, we can offer direct air links to China and elsewhere, where we are losing ground to continental competitors such as Germany, which has just added a fourth runway at its main hub airport of Frankfurt.
At a time when the UK is suffering arguably its worst-ever economic recession and the highest levels of unemployment in 17 years, we can ill afford continued indecision from government on new airport capacity. It is firm decisions we now need, not another year of consultation. Successive UK governments have been continually consulting on the future of aviation and new runway capacity for decades.
Airport investment has the added benefit of being private investment for the future of the public good, at little or no cost to the taxpayer.
Constraining growth at Britain's airports costs the UK economy over £1bn per year and puts many thousands of UK jobs at risk. Ministers need to wake up from their obsession with planning hugely expensive, publicly funded national railway and road schemes in isolation from our international links, and recognise the urgent need to permit privately funded investment at our overcrowded airports in order for the UK to compete for business with the rest of the world.