A thoughtful document, written by Jim French, managing director FlyBe, to Alistair Darling, secretary of state for transport, and widely distributed, is provoking considerable interest.
What Mr French is saying is that Heathrow (and Birmingham too - although it is not a problem at the present time) should be ring fenced for UK regional flights in the national interest. He points out that this is the case in France, in Ireland, and in the United States under the Essential Air Service Programme.
The term ”ring fencing” refers to the practice of guaranteeing access, or prioritising slots, into premier international hub airports. This is not the case at present where BAA seem to take the view that it is more important to gain the revenue from a long haul 747 landing or take-off (each one being a slot) than say an Embraer 145 coming in from the Provinces. Money rules rather than the national interest.
Mr French”s comment is unequivocal, ”Investors in British industry need to be assured that their goods, customers and key employees can move in and out of the regions and beyond freely and easily”. Putting it another way, there were nearly half a million movements at Heathrow last year. If Cardiff, Carlisle, East Midlands, Liverpool, Newquay, Guernsey, Humberside, Jersey, Inverness, Isle of Man, Norwich and Plymouth all were to gain access to Heathrow and were given three landings per weekday and one on Saturday and two on Sunday, that would come to 21,000 slots, less than 4.5% of total landings. Not all would be taken up, probably half at the end of the day, maybe 2%. But think of the difference these slots at Heathrow would make for the communities of Inverness and Newquay, both cut off from the UK land mass with very poor surface communications. It could be argued that BA would benefit too, opening up high yield interline traffic now diverted to such places as Amsterdam and Paris.
Mr French originally proposed a cut-off with 30-seat aircraft for the ring fencing but now considers 70 seats to be more realistic, bringing in such ideal regional aircraft as the Embraer and Bombardier regional jets, the ATP, ATR and Dash 8. What is remarkable about the letter is that it comes from a senior man in the industry with no axe to grind. FLyBe headquarters at Exeter has never been linked by air to Heathrow, and future prospects are dim.
”Importantly,” he says, ”These slots should be the property of the region, not the airline that operates them.” Mr French backs the idea of a short third runway at Heathrow, and in his letter, which covers FlyBe”s recommendations on the Government”s White Paper on the Future of Aviation, emphasises the expansion of London City by easing the current planning restrictions.
The submission date for the White Paper has now been delayed for six months. When the review is actually published is anyone”s guess. This Government is not noted for quick decisions. Let us hope that it carefully considers the slot implications and even its relationship to Bermuda 2. Mr Prescott could then fly in from Hull. Jaguar might not be pleased. top