AOA Annual Dinner 2015 – speeches from AOA Chairman & Minister for Aviation

On Tuesday 3 March 2015, the AOA’s Annual Dinner took place at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London. The following speeches were delivered by the AOA Chairman, Ed Anderson, and the Minister for Aviation, Robert Goodwill MP, respectively.


Ed Anderson – AOA Chairman

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, can I welcome you all to the Annual Dinner of the AOA. It is very good to see so many of you here and I am sure we are going to have a great evening.

Can I thank our 7 Corporate Partners who are the principal sponsors of the AOA’s showpiece events, namely this Annual Dinner and our Annual Conference. We are proud that each one of them is a world leader in their field: they are Babcock; ITN Productions; Redline Aviation Security; Selex Es; SITA; Thales; and VanDerLande. We are delighted to have such prestigious companies as our Corporate Partners and we are most grateful for their sponsorship this evening.

We are going to run a raffle of business cards once again this year, along with a collection for the charity Orbis. Many of you will be aware of the work that Orbis does for blind people throughout the developing world.

And you will be aware that it runs a Flying Eye Hospital which carries out its operations in a number of developing countries. The charity relies on fundraising; it is an excellent cause; and I would urge you all to give generously.

Can I ask everyone to place a large banknote in the envelope on your table, together with a business card. There will be a draw later which will result in a prize for the winning table in the form of champagne; and there will also be a draw of the business cards.

This year we are extremely fortunate to have had prizes donated by three airlines – BA, Emirates and Virgin – who have all kindly given flight tickets for the winners.

We are very grateful to BA, Emirates and Virgin for their generosity. And it means we should be even more generous with our contributions this year.

We have a number of distinguished guests on our Top Table this evening but I would particularly like to welcome once again the Minister for Aviation, Robert Goodwill MP. We are very grateful, Minister, that you have been able to join us this evening and we are looking forward to hearing you speak shortly. And we are very pleased to have the Labour Shadow Minister, Gordon Marsden MP, with us on the top table too.

I have commented in the past about the rapid turnover of Transport Secretaries and the fact that I have seen six during my time as Chairman; and that the average tenure over many decades is somewhere around 18 months.

Well someone has obviously been listening because Patrick McLoughlin, at two and a half years, is now comfortably the longest serving Transport Secretary of State since Alastair Darling in 2002; and you, Robert, must be one of the longest serving Aviation Ministers over a similar period.

There is a serious point here because it has always seemed most curious that anyone would think it was sensible to move Ministers and Shadow Ministers the minute they have become familiar with their briefs.

I would like to publicly thank both the current ministerial team and Gordon Marsden the Labour Shadow Minister for an excellent level of engagement with the AOA and our industry over these past two years. Of course we haven’t always agreed but we have always felt listened to; and we hope you feel our interactions with you have always been constructive. And I would also like to mention the open engagement we have had with Andrew Haines and his colleagues at the CAA over this period too.

The General Election is now some nine weeks away (though it feels as though the campaign has been running for at least that long already). It does provide an opportunity for reflection on how things have changed since 2010.

At that time, Labour had announced that its aviation policy was being reviewed; and that none of the previous positions it had held when in government were still party policy.

And the Conservatives fought the general election with a slogan that airports should be ‘Better not Bigger’. The coalition’s first Transport Secretary, Philip Hammond, did not seem at all convinced about the economic value of aviation; he declared that aviation was ‘lightly taxed’, despite us pointing out that the UK has the highest aviation taxes in the world; and he also warned the industry that they should start to embrace the environmental agenda, despite the fact that the Sustainable Aviation coalition had by then been in existence for some five years.

So, the industry clearly had considerable ground to recover! There is no doubt that the past two or three years have seen far more positive language being used by government about aviation.

We have welcomed this change in tone; and we welcomed the publication of the Government’s Aviation Policy Framework two years ago, which maintained that positive language about our industry’s key role in the future success of our economy.

We also welcomed Sir Howard Davies’ Airports Commission when it was set up and we continue to support it. It is clear that the UK needs to compete in both established and emerging markets. This requires excellent aviation connectivity right across the country, ensuring the UK has both vibrant point to point airports and sufficient world class hub capacity.

The AOA supports all airports that wish to grow and believes in making best use of existing capacity at UK airports. And we urge policy makers to act swiftly once the Airport Commission has delivered its Final Report later this year.

The debate must not just be about more runways though. There are airports right across the UK that are keen to grow and we are calling upon the next Government to set out, as soon as possible after the publication of the Airports Commission final report, how all airports that wish to grow will be able to do so.

This should include supporting at least some of the many crucial surface access improvement schemes that airports have ready to go. And there should be a presumption in planning policy in favour of airports that wish to grow.

Airports, airlines, aircraft and engine manufacturers, and NATS continue to work together through the Sustainable Aviation coalition for a ‘cleaner quieter, smarter’ aviation industry.

Sustainable Aviation has already shown through its road maps on noise and carbon that the UK aviation sector can achieve substantial growth between now and 2050, without any significant increase in its noise or CO2 emissions. And last year saw SA publish its road map on sustainable fuels, where technology is moving on very rapidly. We are asking Government to back this important initiative, which will not only help to reduce emissions but also create 5,000 jobs and generate £480 million of value to the UK economy

It is clear that the UK can be a world leader in delivering sustainable aviation; we must not lose any opportunity to demonstrate to policy makers that we are totally committed to the environmental agenda and that we are determined to deliver.

As the trade association for airports, of course we want all our members to thrive and prosper. It is therefore very sad to note that the past year or so has seen the closure of Manston Airport and the end of commercial air traffic at Blackpool Airport. And this follows the closure of Plymouth and Bristol Filton airports a couple of years ago.

All this provides further evidence that a number of smaller and mid sized airports are finding life very tough. They face the complexity and costs of regulation which hit them irrespective of whether or not passenger numbers are increasing.

And these difficulties are of course compounded by the crazy level of APD, which significantly affects their ability to grow passenger numbers and threatens their existing routes.

Earlier today we held a workshop for smaller and mid sized airports, and discussed the top five policies and regulations that impact unduly on them compared to larger airports. We will be making sure these priorities are raised when we engage with the CAA and Government departments over the coming months and years.

Turning now to APD, It is outrageous that a former Secretary of State should say our industry is lightly taxed when the opposite was, and is, the case. And since that statement was made, the tax has continued to increase.

We are grateful for the changes to the long haul bands announced in last year’s Budget speech. And we are pleased with the concessions that have recently been announced on APD on flights by children.

However, we must have genuine and meaningful reductions across the board if we are to see a levelling of the playing field with the rest of Europe.

We are of course following the developing situation in Scotland with great interest. And we don’t have to wonder what the impact on airports elsewhere in the UK might be once APD has been cut, or even abolished, in Scotland and now potentially in Wales too. We can see numerous examples across Europe. The Netherlands introduced a form of APD in 2008 and then scrapped it once residents flocked across the border to Germany to avoid the tax.

And airports in Northern Ireland have been badly impacted since the Irish Government took the decision to scrap its version of APD last year. Belgium, Denmark, Malta and Norway have also scrapped flight taxes for similar reasons.

The truth is that, after some 20 years, this harmful policy that damages our industry and damages our economy, is unravelling. The AOA position on this is very clear. A reduction anywhere in the UK must be matched immediately by the same reduction everywhere, so that no part of the country is disadvantaged.

So, we are pleased with the progress that we have made as an industry these past two or three years. That progress has undoubtedly been helped by the way that different parts of our industry have been willing to work together to present a united face to Government. It is essential that we continue to work in this more united way.

I am therefore very pleased to announce today that, for our annual conference this autumn, we are linking up with BATA, BARUK and the Royal Aeronautical Society to mount what we think will be the best Conference ever; and it will be branded the UK Aviation Conference.

This will be a great opportunity for our industry to set out its stall to the incoming Government. It will take place on the 23rd and 24th November and I would urge you all to put those dates in your diaries.

As we approach the General Election, my greatest fear is that there could be a step back in policy terms which would then take us three years to recover from – just as there was in 2010. If you are still the Minister, Robert, please make sure that doesn’t happen.

And if you are not, then please can you at least leave a note on your desk with your thoughts for your successor, as we understand at least one previous Minister did!

For our part, we will continue to be united in our determination to secure the most favourable policy and fiscal framework that will enable our industry to prosper and grow, for the benefit of the UK economy.

Thank you all once again for coming this evening. Please don’t forget to place a very large banknote and a business card in the envelopes on your table, and let’s enjoy the rest of the evening.

Thank you.


Robert Goodwill MP – Minister for Aviation

Let me start tonight by paying tribute to the industry for what has been another year of real progress and achievement.

Although the news from Blackpool and Manston served to remind us just how competitive this industry is…..

The vast majority of the fifty-plus airports who are members of the AOA had a successful 2014.

Many experienced record passenger numbers…..

Including Heathrow, Edinburgh, Gatwick, Luton, and Birmingham..

And many others saw passenger traffic rise…..

Including Glasgow, Belfast and Stansted.

But it wasn’t just the main players who are experiencing growth.

Aberdeen had a record year.

London City received planning approval for a £200m improvement programme to boost passengers from 70,000 to 111,000 a year.

And I reserve a particular round of applause for the team from Southend Airport.

Congratulations – you are officially the fastest growing UK airport.

It’s been a real privilege for me to visit many of you over the past year.

I’ve seen why Southampton has been voted best UK airport for customer service.

And why Bristol has topped the flight punctuality league tables with a rating of 94.4% – the best in the world.

I’ve been particularly impressed by the ambition and vision of operators as I’ve travelled around the country.

So many airports are looking confidently to the future…..

Building new terminal capacity….

Improving passenger facilities…..

And adding new destinations.

Particularly eye catching are some of the new long-haul routes from regional airports…..

Like Glasgow to Nova Scotia….

Newcastle to New York….

And Birmingham to Beijing…..

Which had the distinction of becoming the first ever direct air service between China and a non-London UK airport when it was launched on a charter basis last summer.

And it was clearly a success.

Because Birmingham Airport has today announced…..

At a UK Trade and Industry event in Shanghai…..

That a much larger programme of flights between the two cities will operate again this summer.

I welcome all these new routes.

They are precisely the sort of direct connections to global markets that will help local businesses to grow, and attract inward investment to our cities.

But we also understand the importance of domestic flights to pick up connecting services in the South East…..

So we launched the Regional Air Connectivity Fund to protect domestic flights that are struggling to turn a profit.

The fund has already helped maintain services from Dundee to Stansted and Newquay to Gatwick.

Though we’ve now broadened the scheme to allow start-up aid for new routes from regional airports handling fewer than 5 million passengers a year.

All this is evidence that you’re growing your core businesses.

But I’ve also been struck by the way you’re diversifying.

I’ve seen how airports like Newcastle and Manchester are developing business parks…..

Becoming business hubs as well as aviation hubs.

And how many smaller airports are improving their maintenance and training facilities…..

Like Biggin Hill and Exeter.

While others are expanding into business aviation.

I was very pleased to see Blackpool bounce back from closure in October to re-open as a Category 3 airport in December…..

Which to me embodied the entrepreneurial spirit that has long distinguished the UK airport sector.

Surface access/airspace/Airports Commission/Environment

It’s thanks to that competitive drive that aviation today contributes over £20bn to UK plc.

And for the good of the country, we want to see that contribution grow – in a sustainable way.

So we’re supporting investment in better surface access to airports…..

From the new £20m rail platform at Manchester….

To road improvements around Bristol, Birmingham and Doncaster airports.

We’re pushing to get the Future Airspace Strategy implemented to increase the efficiency and resilience of the network…..

Something that was highlighted in December when we had air traffic control problems at Swanwick…..

Though the disruption to flights was actually far less severe than the Italian air traffic controller strike which took place on the same day.

And the similar industrial action in Belgium the following Monday.

And – like you – we are looking forward to the publication of the Airport Commission’s report.

As I speak, the Commission is studying the three short-listed options after the consultation closed earlier this month.

It’s expected that the analysis will show that expansion in the South East will increase the number of passengers travelling through regional airports to connect with flights from London.

But beyond that I cannot speculate about the results.

What I can say is that we will make a swift decision on the future of runway capacity after the Commission’s conclusions are made public.

With a new, better evidence base, I can assure you that this decision will end decades of uncertainty.

Part of the reason why your industry can support this growth is because aviation is improving its environmental performance.

It’s not just that aircraft are carrying more people, more efficiently.

Or that engine and fuel technologies are reducing the carbon footprint of flights.

Airports are playing a critical role in the greening of the industry.

And I’d particularly like to mention three today.

Newcastle – which is signficantly reducing energy use through a variety of schemes and measures.

Manchester Airport Group – which is generating electricity through biomass, wind turbines and other technologies.

And Leeds/Bradford, which is recycling up to 90% of waste, and installing energy efficient lighting in terminals, offices and rest areas.

Congratulations to you all.

Your work not only helps us tackle climate change.

It also reflects well on the entire sector…..

Contributing to jobs, prosperity, and the success of our long term economic plan.