16 October, etc.venues Monument
30 October, JW Marriott Grosvenor House
1st November 2023, etc.venues County Hall
The interim report of the UK Competition Commission (CC) on BAA's seven airports in the UK seems to be the start of what could be a long period of radical change in the country's airport structure and management.
This is emphatically not before time.
If there is one major criticism that is frequently aimed at BAA, which owns seven major UK airports, it is that it has demonstrably failed to keep pace with the growth and changes in the aviation industry.
In short that many of its airports - and hapless Heathrow springs immediately to mind here - are not currently fit for purpose.
Ironically the thinking behind keeping BAA as the owner of several airports when it was privatised in 1987 was that it would be better placed to provide this capacity. (BAA currently owns seven airports: Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Southampton, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen).
Yet, despite a warning from the CAA as far back as 1986 that more capacity had to be provided in the south east, not one new runway has been built at Heathrow, Stansted or Gatwick in since that time. To be fair, new terminals have opened at Heathrow and Gatwick.
In 1986 when the CAA issued its warning, its own figures said that there were 1,123,000 air traffic movements at all UK airports that year and 75,158,000 passengers were processed. In 2007, the CAA figures were 2,376,000 air traffic movements and 240,727,000 passengers. This, respectively, is a doubling of air movements and more than a tripling of passengers.
The vast bulk of these passengers travelled through BAA-owned airports. Heathrow handled 28% of all air passengers in 2007, Gatwick 14.6% and Stansted 9.9%.
It must have struck a bell somewhere in the recesses of BAA that more capacity was needed. If new runways are built at Heathrow and Stansted, it will not be for at least 15 years and possibly more. This amounts to nearly 40 years of failing to provide extra capacity while aviation expanded rapidly.
It is almost academic to point out that Heathrow's rival on the continent, Schiphol, Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt have all made better, quicker provision for increased capacity.Clearly successive British governments must take a good portion of this blame but so does BAA which owns the airports.
But worse has followed. In 2006, the Spanish company Ferrovial bought BAA for about £10bn. It borrowed heavily to fund this purchase with the result that much needed investment in the airports has not materialised as the government, which sanctioned the sale, hoped.
One enduring memory is of the increased security checks resulting in substantial queues and delays which overtook Heathrow for several weeks after British police uncovered an alleged plot to blow up airlines out of Heathrow in August 2006,
What stuck in the mind was not so much the delays but the number of screening machines for hand luggage which stood idle while people queued. Clearly BAA had not the staff to deal with the emergency.
But if investment had not been made in trained staff, the feeling was that plenty of effort had gone into attracting more shops to the terminals which of course bring a handsome return to the airport owners.
It may have been this type of scenario which prompted Christopher Clarke, chairman of the CC, to remark: "Particular features which we have identified as potentially limiting competition include the common ownership by BAA of each of its seven airports and the way it conducts its business.
"We are particularly concerned by its apparent lack of responsiveness to the differing needs of its airline customers, and hence passengers, and the consequences for the levels, quality, scope, location and timing of investment and levels and quality of service."
Mr Clarke and the CC stressed that the interim report was just an indication of its "emerging thinking" and that the next report in august will contain its provisional thinking and possible solutions.
But the bald statement from Mr Clarke seems to indicate which way that thinking is going.
He said: "BAA dominates the airports markets in the South-East of England and in lowland Scotland, both areas of high economic activity and importance.
"Currently, there is no competition between BAA's three London airports (Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted) and only very limited competition from non-BAA airports (including London City and Luton).
"Similarly, there is no competition between their two airports in lowland Scotland (Edinburgh and Glasgow) although Glasgow does face competition from one non-BAA airport (Prestwick)."
No business person or consumer needs to be told that monopolies are a bad thing. BAA has not served airlines and air travellers in the south east and Lowland Scotland as well as it might.
There are good grounds to claim it has let down the very people who have little choice but to use its facilities in the south east. Much of the industry feels this way. BAA would do well to note which way the wind is blowing.