INTERVIEW: Letting Britain Fly

Source: Martin Roell
Source: Martin Roell Flickr (CC by SA 2.0)

The campaigns of the three options put forward to the Airports Commission may be going into overdrive to get their points across to the wider public, but elsewhere in the lobbying landscape, there are people who aren’t too concerned about what Sir Howard Davies recommends, as long as he recommends that it’s done. “We simply want a quick decision on air capacity expansion, guided by the Airports Commission’s final recommendation.” Gavin Hayes of  Let Britain Fly tells me at the lobbyist’s brand spanking new offices in a rather prestigious West London postcode. “Let Britain Fly is airport neutral. We’re not going to take a view on which is the best option for airports expansion.” says Hayes, a veteran campaigner and director of the air capacity expansion group.

“This is about the wider business community calling for urgent action on air capacity in London and the South East in order to support growth. It’s not about vested interests.”

Businesses together

What Let Britain Fly, and several other groups want, is a fast decision from the Conservative government once the Davies Commission reports (whenever that may be) to ensure possibilities for further growth in UK businesses. Business leaders are concerned that a lack of airport expansion could strangle businesses, and last week over 100 business leaders signed a letter urging quick action. Some business lobbies have already nailed their colours to the mast, with Britain’s most powerful business group, the Confederation of British Industry, appearing to endorse Heathrow last year. In September, a spokesman said “it tends to be hub airports that deliver the new connections to emerging markets that we desperately need.”

Let Britain Fly may not have the backing of the CBI, but it has united many groups, and its backers include firms like Asda, Boots, and John Lewis, major banks Citi and HSBC, as well as a number of business lobby groups “Our campaign coalition not only includes London First, but the Institute of Directors, the London Chamber of Commerce, the British Chamber of Commerce, and the Federation of Small Businesses. We’ve aligned most of the main business organisations.”

Ensuring growth

Hayes tells me that for businesses based in the South East and London, increasing airport capacity beats road building and rail infrastructure projects like HS2, as the most important concern in terms of infrastructure – “In a nutshell, expanding airports in London and the South East is pretty much the number one infrastructure ask of the business community, of any government. Obviously the business community were very disappointed that the Coalition cancelled the Third Runway at Heathrow, after the previous Labour government had committed to building it. Doing this means that Heathrow has now been at full capacity for nearly ten years, and we’ve got a situation where Gatwick is also going to be full by about 2020, and most of London’s airports will be at 96% capacity by the middle of the 2020s, unless we get a quick decision by the government to expand airports in London and the South East.”

Campaigners like Hayes see expanding airport capacity, wherever it may be, as a means to ensure that Britain continues to foster links between itself and the world’s emerging markets. It is thought that more airport space would mean more direct flights to the likes of China, India and Indonesia (a view particularly espoused by Heathrow campaigners). This would enable the UK to continue fostering strong trade relationships with these nations and secure long terms benefits for the UK’s economy “In terms of securing economic prosperity, its really, really important to secure direct flights to some of the world’s new and emerging economies.” said Hayes.

So, while Heathrow and Gatwick are sweating it out waiting to see what happens upon the release of the Airports Commission’s findings, pressure groups like Let Britain Fly are just hoping that something will come of the report, and that it isn’t just shelved like so many others before it.

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