Britain’s strategy for boosting the aviation sector will seek to enhance connectivity as it quits the European Union, tighten noise and pollution curbs, tap new anti-terrorist technologies and improve the travel experience with everything from personal baggage collection to smoother border controls.
The plan would also seek to safeguard Britain’s aerospace manufacturing base, advance the development of a homegrown space industry and encourage new developments such as drones and personal “flying taxis” while maintaining a rigorous regulatory regime, according to a call for evidence issued by the Department for Transport Friday.
At the heart of the strategy, intended to guide policy making to 2050 and beyond, is a commitment to build a 16 billion-pound ($21 billion) third runway at London Heathrow airport. The study will also consider how best to utilize spare capacity at other hubs before the new strip opens in 2030, especially as Britain seeks to safeguard and extend air links before quitting the European Union.
“In the short term, post-referendum, the government is focused on the 44 countries including EU member states, the U.S. and Canada, where our market access is via EU-negotiated agreements,” the 82-page DfT document says, adding that “new arrangements are a top priority for the government.” The settlement with the EU on maintaining air access will itself be separate from the strategy plan.
Britain has the world’s biggest air transport and aerospace sector after the U.S., worth 22 billion pounds annually to the economy, while London has the busiest airport system, with flights to more than 370 destinations in 100 countries.
Also under consideration is the impact of Britain’s air-passenger tax on competition, whether the system for allocating operating slots at busy airports might be improved, and if current rules on state aid are “correctly balanced.”
Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. said that while the consultation is welcome, the final strategy must focus on the needs of the consumer and enhancing competition. What the carrier called “the world’s highest long-haul flying tax” should be reduced and new slots at Heathrow, where capacity will be expanded to 135 million passengers a year, should be allocated in a way that makes British Airways less dominant, it said in a statement.
Airports and airlines should seek to alleviate so-called “pinch points” in the travel experience, according to the proposals. That could include luggage portering, with bags collected from the passenger, and in-town check-in, both already on offer in Asia. The Hong Kong Airport Express lets travelers drop luggage at the station two days before flying and collect it at journey’s end.
U.K. Transport Secretary Chris Grayling will launch the public discussion Friday at Manchester Airport in northern England, where a 1 billion-pound program to double the size of the hub’s Terminal 2 is set to begin. The expansion aims to increase annual passenger numbers from 27 million to 45 million.
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