UK Regional and Business Airports Group (RABA) + Heathrow intensify efforts for domestic access
Neil Pakey, the Chair of RABA (the Regional & Business Airports Group which represents 40 airports) is ramping up efforts for “all parts of the UK to be connected to the UK’s global hub at Heathrow”. Central to RABA’s requirements is policy change which allow UK regional route slot ring-fencing. Pakey is presenting evidence to Parliament’s influential Transport Select Committee on 18 December to advance this cause.
In the evidence Pakey, the former CEO of Shannon Airport and Peel Airports Ltd, says that regional airports across the UK, and the Crown Dependencies, should enjoy a comprehensive review of Heathrow routes and access stemming from the increased capacity created by the third runway (“Heathrow Expansion”), and also from the extra 25,000 annual movements Heathrow intends to create even before the third runway opens.
“The inference is only that a limited number of additional slots will be granted, so we are working on creating a more strategic and structured approach to any evaluation which designates which services will be ring-fenced for which slots, and should be assimilated and where appropriate extended.”
RABA role in £10m Heathrow Route Development Fund
Pakey fully acknowledges Heathrow’s many efforts to increase UK connectivity (see below) and he champions RABA’s own advisory role in Heathrow’s £10m ($13.5 million) Route Development Fund to develop new UK routes. But he still thinks “the UK Government needs an Airports National Policy Statement which enables the public and private sectors to work together to deliver this ambitious connectivity strategy.”
The latest version of the UK Government’s Airports National Policy Statement (subtitled “new runway capacity and infrastructure at airports in the South East of England”) expresses hopes for an increase to 14 domestic routes, rising from the current eight routes operated. But Pakey would like more: “RABA welcomes recognition and inclusion of some key destinations such as Liverpool, Cornwall Airport Newquay, Humberside, Glasgow Prestwick and Durham Tees Valley, but we don’t think the list should be limited to just six extra Heathrow routes. There are many other RABA members who may make a case for a Heathrow route including Exeter, Carlisle, Anglesey, Derry, Dundee, Doncaster Sheffield, Blackpool, Norwich and Cardiff.”
Indeed, Pakey goes further: “If Heathrow is to fulfil its role as a the UK’s international hub then the Scottish and Cornish islands should also be included in strategic planning with seemless feeder services via regional airports into Heathrow. RABA also notes there is no mention of Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man.” (These islands are Crown Dependencies – with special sovereign status, but surely deserve inclusion in UK National Aviation Strategy.)
RABA hopes these aspirations will be reflected in the final version of the Airports National Policy Statement when it is placed before Parliament in first half of next year. RABA is confident that regional airlines will play their part and explore solutions for the ‘regional cause’ currently being championed by the regional airports + Heathrow. “We believe the airlines can help scope out the new regional connections to Heathrow and help maximise the economic benefits for the UK arising from introduction.”
Post-Brexit Pakey believes that cities and local economies across all parts of the UK should not be expected to rely solely on air services to non-UK hubs, like Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris CDG, to gain access to a wide range of global markets. “The emphasis the UK Government is placing on developing trading links beyond our current core EU markets in its Brexit plans means that every region of the UK will need to be globally connected. The best way of guaranteeing this is by ensuring there is quick and convenient access to Heathrow. This will require additional slots to be made available for UK domestic services at Heathrow as part of the third runway project.”
“Bringing Britain Together” – Heathrow’s connectivity plan
RABA’s views align with Heathrow’s own policies outlined in its “Bringing Britain Together” connectivity plan which states:
- “Appropriate slot rules could be adapted to ring-fence a certain portion of the slots at Heathrow for domestic use…changes to slot allocation made possible by Brexit.”
- “PSO routes are specified by the cities they link, rather than the airports. Heathrow believes this is no longer relevant in a globalised economy, in which regions across the UK are keen to connect with the world. It is not just connections to London that matter, but connections through London, via the UK’s only hub airport.”
- Domestic Airport Departure Taxes should be scrapped (currently these are £13-£26 – or up to $36).
- Heathrow is creating a £10 million ($13.5m) Route Development Fund “to support airlines to establish new routes into Heathrow…we are partnering with RABA to progress this”.