AOA Chairman Ed Anderson speech to UK Aviation Conference 2015

Conference Speech 23 November 2015 – Ed Anderson, AOA Chairman (check against delivery)

Ladies and Gentlemen, can I welcome you all to the Airport Operators Association’s 2015 Annual Conference. I am delighted that we have joined with BAR UK, BATA, and the Royal Aeronautical Society in badging this Year’s Conference as The UK Aviation Conference. The theme of this year’s Conference is ‘Connecting People, Jobs and the Economy’, in recognition of the crucial part aviation and aerospace plays in boosting individuals and communities, employment and UK plc more widely.

It is great to see so many colleagues here, and I am sure we are going to have an enjoyable and stimulating time over this next day and a half. And I would particularly like to welcome the renowned ITN news anchor and presenter, Natasha Kaplinsky, as our Conference Moderator conference this year.

Before I go any further, I would like to thank our 7 Corporate Partners who are the headline sponsors for this event. They are Babcock; ITN Productions; Redline Aviation Security; Selex ES; Sita; Thales; and Vanderlande. We are most grateful to all these world class companies for their support for AOA. I would also like to thank all the exhibitors for supporting the conference and also all the companies that have sponsored our Awards at this evening’s dinner.

We are once again trying to encourage everyone to visit every stand. And following on from the success of last year’s Exhibition Stand Passport scheme, you have all been given passports again this year when you registered; so get them stamped during the day, and hand them to an AOA staff member before you leave after today’s final conference session. We will then have a draw at close of play and the winning delegate will win our fantastic prize which is a state of the art iPad, to be awarded at the dinner this evening. Good luck!

Since we last met, we have of course had a General Election in May and the publication of Sir Howard Davies’s Airports Commission Final Report in July. We now have a Government with a majority; and a continuation of the previous Ministerial team, with Patrick McLoughlin, who has now been Secretary of State for Transport for some three years, and the Aviation Minister Robert Goodwill both continuing in their posts.

There have of course been significant changes on the Labour side and we look forward to engaging with the new Labour team over the coming years, as well as politicians from across the political divide.

We are very pleased to welcome Robert Goodwill MP, the Minister with responsibility for aviation, to this Conference once again this year; and we are looking forward to hearing him speak straight after lunch. We will also welcome Lillian Greenwood MP, the new Labour Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, and Keith Brown, the Scottish Minister with responsibility for Infrastructure, both of whom will speak tomorrow.

The final report of the Airports Commission was published in the Summer. The AOA welcomes the completion of the Commission’s work and we continue to support the assertion already made in its interim report regarding the need for both airport expansion and, just as crucially, making the best use of existing capacity at UK airports. We urge the Government to respond swiftly to the report in order to maintain momentum, remove uncertainty and ensure the UK gets the additional capacity it so vitally needs as soon as possible. We are currently awaiting the Government’s response, which has been promised by the end of the year.

The response from Government should not just be about London and the South East. The AOA believes that all airports across the UK that wish to grow should be able do so. With the DfT’s 2013 Aviation Policy Framework shortly to be complemented by the Government’s response to Davies’s report on capacity, we now seek a clear, integrated way forward for all UK airports that includes a presumption in the planning regime in favour of sustainable development and, where appropriate, funds being made available for some of the many crucial surface access improvement schemes that will support this growth. Additionally, airspace change is also crucial to making better use of existing capacity, and we await with interest the DfT’s consultation expected early next year. Today’s airspace was designed over 40 years ago and in that time the number of passengers using it has increased by 185 million per year. Existing airspace structures will not provide sufficient capacity to accommodate forecast growth, without causing delays and a reduction in overall efficiency.

We note with interest the setting up of a National Infrastructure Commission, chaired by Lord Adonis, and hope that aviation infrastructure will for a key component of its deliberations and recommendations, as it sets out its priorities for the next 30 years.

Whilst the national and local economic benefits of aviation have been increasingly recognised in recent years, we are also totally committed to ensuring that our industry is sustainable. Only by proving and improving on our sustainability credentials can our sector secure permission to grow, for the benefit of both UK plc and local communities.

Airports, airlines, aircraft and engine manufacturers, and air traffic surface providers NATS continue to work together through the Sustainable Aviation coalition for a ‘cleaner quieter, smarter’ aviation industry. Sustainable Aviation has recently marked its 10th Anniversary with a House of Commons reception, and published a progress report which set out its main work streams over the past two years.

Since the establishment of SA in 2005, much has been achieved on this important agenda. Eleven million more passengers are using public transport to access UK airports; noise contour areas have shrunk by 14% through better operating techniques and the introduction of new quieter aircraft; and airports have contributed to SA members saving 20 million tonnes of CO2 through improved fuel efficiency, airspace change and the introduction of new aircraft technology.

There is no doubt that SA has made a very important contribution to the whole debate about the future of aviation over these past ten years; and its work is widely respected among policy makers. It is imperative that Government and all parts of our industry continue to support SA and work hard to ensure that its messages are heard. Of particular importance moving forwards will be support for airspace change, the development of sustainable aviation fuels and continued investment in research and development.

As the trade association for airports, of course we want all our members to thrive and prosper. The past few years have seen either the end of commercial flights, or even in some cases the closure, of a number of airports, including Manston, Plymouth and Bristol Filton. We are aware that some smaller airports are finding life very tough as they face the complexity and costs of regulation which hit them irrespective of whether or not passenger numbers are increasing. We have urged the Government to support bids for the Regional Air Connectivity Fund and we ask Ministers, 18 months after the policy was announced by the Treasury, to ensure that monies are released as soon as possible so that airlines and airports can start planning for and marketing the routes in question.

At this Conference, we will be considering the importance of tourism to the UK. This follows the publication of the ‘Tourism and Aviation’ report during the summer by the AOA in partnership with ABTA, the Tourism Alliance and UKinbound. The report highlighted the key role of aviation and leisure tourism as a wealth and job creator, and recognised that two very significant barriers to increasing inbound tourism are the excessive levels of Air Passenger Duty that air travellers to the UK face; and the costs and complexities associated with obtaining a visa to enter the UK. In this context, and after a sustained period of lobbying from the industry including the AOA, we very much welcome the Prime Minister’s recent announcement on changes to the rules for visitor visas for Chinese travellers. We now seek further reforms, including a repeat of this announcement for other countries including India.

Turning to APD, it is well known that the aviation sector in the UK is more highly taxed than other sectors; and when you compare us with elsewhere in Europe our levels of APD are truly eye watering. We believe that APD is a matter both for the Chancellor and the Department for Transport. We understand the need for the Treasury to take steps to address the fiscal deficit; however, high levels of APD also affect the UK’s connectivity as airlines decide to route less aircraft or fly less frequently to the UK – so we will continue to urge both the Treasury and the DfT to reconsider this matter, a point which I’m sure will be put to the Aviation Minister when he joins the conference later.

On a positive front, we welcomed the changes to the longest haul Bands C & D announced in 2013. And we very much welcome the more recent steps that the Chancellor has taken to abolish APD on flights taken by children under 12 this year, and those under 16 next year. But we – together with our Fair Tax on Flying campaigning colleagues – will continue to press for a Treasury study into the wider economic impacts of this tax, and to push for Band A and B reductions. We are also closely following the discussions taking place about future levels of APD in Scotland, and potentially Wales too. We have responded to the recent discussion paper that considered a number of options for ensuring that airports across the UK do not lose out as a result of the devolution of APD and we look forward to the Government’s response in due course. As an industry, we seek certainty from the Government as to our future tax regime so we will be pressuring Ministers to set out their thinking sooner rather than later. We are very clear that any reduction in APD anywhere in the UK must be matched, immediately, by similar reductions everywhere else and that doing nothing is not an option.

The UK economy is at last showing strong signs of recovery. Similarly aviation and aerospace is powering ahead following the recession with a number of members showing strong year on year growth for the past two years. In the UK airports sector as a whole, we are now on track this year to exceed for the first time the record numbers achieved in 2007. We understand there is a similarly positive outlook for airlines and aerospace. The Government is now looking to take steps to stimulate economic growth – boosting our air infrastructure provides just that opportunity.

The AOA itself goes from strength to strength. We have 55 airports in membership; the seven Corporate Partners I mentioned earlier; five Gold and 39 Silver members; and130 or so Associate members. The AOA Team continues to do everything possible to go the extra mile for members, as part of its ‘Members First’ strategy to be an A+ trade association.

We are now working ever more closely with Government, policy makers, regulators and other stakeholders for the good of all our members and we will continue to do so in the coming year. Working as closely as possible with fellow aviation and aerospace bodies such as BAR UK, BATA and the Royal Aeronautical Society is a key part of a strategy to impact aviation policy as much as possible in a unified way. Again, we are very pleased that they have joined us in partnering this event this week.

So in conclusion, thank you again for coming to our Conference today. We have an exceptionally strong line up of speakers this year. I also look forward to seeing you all this evening at the Conference Dinner and Annual Awards ceremony hosted once again by the well known journalist and broadcaster Simon Calder.

Ladies and Gentlemen, please take part in the discussions over this next day and a half; remember to get your passports stamped by visiting each of the exhibitions stands; feel free to tweet using the hashtag at AOA Conference that you can see on the screen; and above all enjoy the Conference. Thank you.