Manchester airport is one of the finest regional airports in Europe. Its popularity can be evidenced by that figure, which is due to grow to 15.5 million by next year. I was extremely gratified when my right hon. Friend announced the open skies policy with the United States of America last year as it is good news for regional airports. Will he take the liberalising spirit a step further and extend the open skies policy to the rest of the world so that more aircraft can use airports like Manchester?
I agree with my hon. Friend that Manchester is a very fine airport and that it has a bright future. Like him, I am pleased that Continental has announced its plans to initiate a flight between Newark and Manchester, arising out of the liberalisation process that I announced last October. That will be good news for passengers and for the Greater Manchester region and its economy. I shall certainly consider carefully any other suggestions that are made to me in that regard.
The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) referred to the expected increase in traffic through Manchester airport in the next decade. Manchester airport seeks a second runway to cater for that capacity. It pitches the capacity of its present runway at 18 million whereas Gatwick copes with 24 million passengers on one runway.
Would not it make more sense, instead of building a new runway in Manchester where there will be at most 12 million or possibly only 6 million extra passengers, to develop Liverpool airport, where there is already a runway that can cope with 12 million passengers, and where meteorological conditions and safety conditions are better? There is less environmental impact, and 20 per cent. of the people who use Manchester airport find it as convenient, or more convenient, to go to Liverpool.
At least the hon. Gentleman's constituents will recognise that he is doing the job that he was sent to this place to do on their behalf. The House will understand that public inquiries are in place relating to both Manchester airport and Liverpool airport, and I am one of only two people in the country who cannot comment about either at the moment.