New Clause 3 - Obligation to operate an air transport service serving a specified route

Part of Civil Aviation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 13th March 2012.

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Photo of Gavin Shuker Gavin Shuker Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 4:30 pm, 13th March 2012

I know where this is going. For the record, I refuse to give way to the hon. Gentleman, who has some small aerodrome in his constituency.

Changes in aviation over the past 15 or 20 years have meant that, instead of wanting to fly directly from point to point, low-cost carriers and airlines are willing to be flexible about where they fly to; they will perhaps fly to airports with fewer facilities, and have expanded to fly into more regional airports. Some airlines are flying to airports that are 50 km or 100 km away from the place advertised as being where the passenger is finally dropped off. That has meant competition for slots, and much more competition between regional airports in attracting business.

My hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham rightly gave the example of Durham Tees Valley airport. In 2004, bmibaby signed an agreement with Durham Tees Valley airport, requiring it to base two aircraft at the airport, and operate them from that airport, for a period of 10 years. That is not unusual in the industry; what is unusual is that in late 2006, the airline withdrew both aircraft from the airport to redeploy them to other UK airports. Presumably, that decision was driven by a couple of factors, including the ability to grow that route. I think we would all accept that. The hon. Member for Cambridge pointed out some of the implications of what happens when airlines are unable to fill their routes.

I might speculate and say that the move could have been due to the issue of where those planes could be stored overnight. The low-cost business requires airframes to be moved around perhaps four or five different cities. That is very much a logistical exercise. Small changes in routes may have a big impact on where aircraft are sited. In this case, in late 2006, bmibaby withdrew both aircraft to redeploy them to other UK airports. It subsequently cancelled all services without warning, and without agreeing with the airport any terms for departure.

I am sure that everyone here has concerns about that business practice. I am a proponent of aviation and its role in the UK economy. I fundamentally believe in aviation’s power for good, and I think that we sometimes do ourselves a disservice when we talk down an industry that employs so many. On the environmental point, I have to say that the industry has a very clear road map and plan for reducing carbon emissions and being part of the UK’s export-led recovery.

When new routes are opened up, from place to place and point to point, growth follows. I can give the anecdotal example of an airport in the north-west that opened up a route to the west coast of the United States. Subsequently, over a period of two or three years, growth expanded massively, with local businesses exporting to that part of the United States. Businesses and hubs grow around airports. I say that simply because I fundamentally believe that airlines are a force for good. However, we should call on that relationship, and say that responsible business and responsible capitalism are not—how best to put this for Hansard?