Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Airport Decision Vital for Air Cargo Says Heathrow Boss as Freight Interests Back Third Runway Vote

Clear Mandate from Parliament Prompts Immediate Legal Challenge
Shipping News Feature
UK – After years of delay, the UK Parliament has finally settled on securing the future of Britain's air capacity, voting in support of plans to build a third runway at London's Heathrow Airport. Many in the freight and logistics industry have long petitioned for a decision which has been decades in the making, and procrastination from successive governments to act on the recommendations of the report from the Davis Commission, together with the UK planning to leave the EU next year, a decision to expand capacity at Britain's airport has never been more urgent. Congratulating the government on the decision Heathrow's chief executive John Holland-Kaye said cargo was a vital component in the airport's future.

Since the vote the Heathrow boss has said that over the next 12 months, the airport will sign £150 million worth of contracts with British businesses, creating 900 new jobs and 200 new apprenticeships. With construction on a third runway at the airport starting within 3 years, Heathrow will also announce the locations of the off-site logistics hubs that will allow businesses across the country to get involved with what will be one of Europe’s largest infrastructure projects. Welcoming the news, Carolyn Fairbairn, Confederation of British Industry's (CBI) Director-General, said:

“Fifty years in the making, this is a truly historic decision that will open the doors to a new era in the UK’s global trading relationships. Parliament’s approval to build the new runway at Heathrow will lift prosperity across the country, and has long been seen as vital for firms, especially exporters. The race for global competitiveness is well underway and the UK must now be quick off the mark, work on the new runway should start as soon as possible. The prize is tens of thousands of jobs and billions of pounds of growth for the British economy. As the UK forges a new path to trade, we must also make the best use of existing runways in regions across the country. A truly global Britain will need increased connections and routes from the whole of the UK, now and for the future.”

Efficient logistics is vital to keep Britain trading, directly having an impact on more than seven million people employed in the making, selling and moving of goods. With Brexit, new technology and other disruptive forces driving change in the way goods move across borders and through the supply chain, logistics has never been more important to the UK. Speaking before the vote, James Hookham FTA’s Deputy Chief Executive, explained:

“Without the increased flexibility and access that an expanded Heathrow will provide, it will be difficult to diversify our economy away from EU trade and maximise the opportunities which Brexit offers. Our increasing reliance on the on-line, e-commerce ‘I Want It Now’ trading environment is based on efficient air cargo links with the rest of the world, UK suppliers will otherwise not be able to compete effectively with competitors in Asia, North and South America, and beyond.

“The promise of trade deals is not enough, exporters will need the means of reaching these new markets as quickly and reliably as possible if they are to compete on equal terms with local producers. Trucking goods to Paris, Frankfurt or other European airports with the necessary connectivity would be a further handicap to seamless business arrangements, if the expansion of Heathrow is not carried out. Flying direct from the UK has to be the best solution for British business and industry.

“The logistics industry’s message to MPs is simple, you need to equip the country with the means of trading efficiently in a post-Brexit world. Failure to expand Heathrow will diminish the prospects for Britain’s future trading ambitions. A successful future outside the EU will require self-sufficiency in routes to market, and an expanded Heathrow is the logical decision to give importers and exporters the reassurance they need that Britain is open for business.”

Demand for global air freight grew by 9% in 2017 according to airline industry body IATA, as exporters in other countries established new trading links to overseas markets. As Hookham stresses, Heathrow must move with the market and expand its options, or risk losing the patronage of major world airlines whose passenger flights provide the cargo-carrying capacity to hundreds of destinations fulfilling vital and profitable trading opportunities for British businesses. He continued:

“The airport’s new capacity is expected to be operational by the mid-2020s, by which time the new UK trade deals should be coming on-line. At the same time, the next generation of aircraft will be in service by that date, which will be quieter and cleaner, reducing still further the environmental impact of the airport. Further delays and frustrations for the project would send the wrong signals to Britain’s global trading partners about our seriousness to become an independent global trade partner. MPs need to acknowledge this bigger picture, and the importance of a viable global hub airport to the nation’s future economic success. With less than a year until Brexit, agreement on an expanded Heathrow will provide British industry with a reassurance that it will be able to keep trading efficiently with its partners outside the EU. Failure to provide additional capacity at Heathrow will mean bleak prospects for British businesses seeking new global markets.”

Whilst most reaction from the logistics community was positive Robert Keen, Director General of the British International Freight Association (BIFA) followed his comments last week that a yes vote should spawn an expedited planning process, robust defence to any legal challenges and terminate ‘high level arguments’ he issued a cautionary note, saying:

“Whilst BIFA welcomes the positive news from Parliament, media coverage of the obstacles that the project still faces leave me with a certain sense of foreboding whether the spades will ever hit the ground. Detailed plans will still need to be drawn up, and will again have to go out for public consultation. There is talk of several local authorities around Heathrow mounting a legal challenge, as well as a judicial review. Separate reviews of flight paths and airspace are also required.

“Each new hurdle that appears will only increase delays further and the chance of another political volte-face is ever present. On behalf of BIFA member companies, which are desperate for the greater number of flights and accompanying airfreight capacity that would result from the new runway, I can only hope that [the] vote does not just open another protracted chapter in the 30-year story of procrastination over Heathrow in particular and UK aviation capacity in general.”

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has now formally designated the Airports National Policy Statement (NPS), paving the way for Heathrow to submit a formal planning application. It triggers the next step in a process that could see building work start in 2021 and the runway operational by 2026. Grayling commented:

“There is still much to be done, including defending this decision against the potential legal challenges, but we are absolutely committed to working closely with local communities and ensuring Heathrow stick to their promises on addressing the local and environmental impacts of expansion.

As Mr Grayling alludes to no sooner was the Parliamentary decision announced than first details of a legal challenge were announced. Four local councils are considering joining a concerted action, including that of PM Theresa May’s local authority at Windsor and Maidenhead. The next stage of the process will see Heathrow bring forward detailed proposals for planning consent, which would be submitted to the Planning Inspectorate. As part of this, Heathrow will need to carry out further consultation with local communities on the finer details of their scheme design and the associated compensation and mitigation packages.

Alongside this Heathrow will continue to develop plans for the necessary airspace changes around the airport, including new flightpaths. These will also be subject to consultation with local communities, ahead of being submitted to the Civil Aviation Authority for approval.