The Government is accused of continuing to dodge the decisions around aviation capacity, holding back the UKs economic growth over electoral concerns.
The Department for Transport has finally responded to the Airports Commission’s interim report – published in December – after a group of business leaders criticised them for a not having done so.
However, the response defers to after the General Election many of the actions Sir Howard Davies recommended for immediate action – such as trials of extended early morning flights, and the appointment of an independent noise ombudsman, and noticeably fails to commit to accepting any recommendation that Sir Howard might eventually make.
The Minister for Transport said in a statement: “In relation to the commission’s recommendation for an Independent Aviation Noise Authority, the government believes that it would be more appropriate to consider the role for such a body alongside the commission’s final recommendations on long term capacity. Similarly, we believe that any further government decisions on using the runway designated for departures (e.g. enhanced TEAM) and for a trial of early morning schedule smoothing at Heathrow should also be considered at that point and in the context of the commission’s recommendations on long term capacity.”
“The government is confirming today that we will be maintaining the existing restrictions on night flights at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports for a further three years until October 2017.”
Baroness Jo Valentine, chief executive of London First, said that after seven months of waiting, the Government had failed to rise to the challenge set by the Airports Commission in its interim report.
“It will be over decade before we have a new runway serving London, if we’re lucky, and this was a great chance to hear how the government will make best use of the airports we have to boost our global reach.
“Instead we have no short term plans to make the rail link to Stansted world-class, and no plans to attract airlines and passengers to grow our global air links.
“There is no detail about an independent Aviation Noise Authority, to bring new levels of trust around airports that more flights will mean less noise, and no certainty over proposals to cut flight delays at Heathrow.
“Finally, there is no recognition whatsoever that London and the UK need new runways to compete internationally.”
There was some small good news in the statement, for regional airports, that the Government will continue to support public service obligations (PSOs) to maintain existing air links to London where there is a risk of regional connectivity being lost. In June, the government announced a PSO on the Dundee-Stansted route and the government will be providing £2.85 million over 2 years to support the route. They are also in discussions with Cornwall Council on a PSO agreement for a Newquay-London air link from October 2014.
And the response didn’t disappoint everyone. Hounslow Council welcomed the statement. Deputy leader, Cllr Amrit Mann, said: “It’s good news the Government has delayed a decision to endorse the Commission’s proposals to increase night flights.
“However, for the sake of our residents’ quality of life, we will not relent in our battle to ban night flights at Heathrow.”
Currently there are around 16 night flights landing at Heathrow between 4.15am and 6am. The Airports Commission’s interim report in December 2013, proposed a ‘smoothing’ process – which would move flights from the 6am to 7am slot to 5am to 6am.