Heathrow expansion and the need for more clarity on the impact of Brexit proved hot topics at ABTA’s Travel Matters event on Wednesday.
Addressing the audience of more than 200 leaders from the travel industry, Mark Tanzer, CEO of ABTA, said that while the association welcomes MPs’ backing of a third runway at Heathrow, cost remains a key concern.
“While the agreement to increase capacity sends a welcome signal about our future trade ambitions, the benefit must not be compromised by a steep rise in airport charges which will throttle demand, so it’s very important that the government keeps a close eye on this.”
Richard Moriarty, the new CEO of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), agreed with Tanzer, saying Heathrow would ‘do itself a disservice’ if it were to go back on its promise to keep airport charges low for customers. He also said the CAA would play a role in monitoring costs during the expansion project and would ‘put pressure’ on the airport to keep its promises.
Turning to the topic of Brexit, transport minister for aviation, international and security Baroness Sugg said the government is ‘making progress’ on negotiating open skies agreements to allow flights to continue to operate to and from Europe following the UK’s exit from the union. She confirmed that the current arrangements will remain in place until the implementation period ends in December 2020.
Tanzer pointed out that a lack of clarity on what will happen after Brexit is a troubling subject for many in the travel industry. “I’m sure many in this room share my frustration at the lack of progress, or clarity, in the Brexit process.
“A year ago, I set out a number of areas in which we needed to see urgent progress – aviation access, movement of key workers, VAT and consumer rights.
“Twelve months on, and we still don’t have any clarity on any of these. On aviation access, probably the most crucial issue, the government has said it ‘fully expects’ that a deal will be done before March 2019. The industry, along with the rest of the nation, is holding them to account on this.”
Speaking about the reaction to businesses expressing their concerns publically, Tanzer said: “It is right that businesses are speaking out against a ‘no deal’ exit from the EU, or a ‘cliff edge’. The attacks on businesses from senior politicians show how frayed relations have become. We are surely approaching crunch time, when hard choices will have to be made, and the government should listen to those who have knowledge on their side, rather than just ideology.
“I believe that we, at ABTA, together with our members, have a role to play in articulating and promoting a compelling vision, and I look forward to working with our political leaders and their departmental colleagues to build that successful future.”