Decision on UK airport capacity needed quickly

The UK's Freight Transport Association (FTA) has joined calls for the UK government to make a decision on airport capacity as soon as possible.


The call comes as the industry awaits the publication of a report by the Airports Commission on the country's future airport capacity plans.


The options include a third runway at Heathrow, lengthening an existing runway at Heathrow, or a second runway at Gatwick.


FTA director general Chris Welsh said: "An early decision on additional airport capacity is needed once the Airports Commission issues its recommendations.


"This will be seen as an important test by Britain's exporters and importers, who depend on air cargo services, and of the government's commitment to boosting the UK's competitiveness in international markets."


The association last year issued a report, Sky-high value - The importance of air freight to the UK economy, suggesting that the importance of the air cargo industry is often overlooked.


The reported backed an expansion of capacity at Heathrow. Welsh said: "The report showed industry's preference for investment in additional runway capacity at Heathrow, the UK's main hub for airfreight, was essential for businesses throughout the UK.


"The report highlighted that Heathrow was a vital national asset, but additional capacity was critical to enable importers and exporters to access new and emerging markets in Asia, South America and the Indian sub-continent."


The FTA pointed out that 95% of air cargo is carried in the belly-hold of passenger aircraft, Heathrow is one of the busiest passenger airports in the world, and that airfreight accounts for nearly 40% of UK imports and exports by value and employs 39,000 people, mostly clustered around Heathrow.


"Airfreight may seem an expensive and environmentally challenging way to ship goods, but for many high-value and high-end goods it is either the best or only way to transport them," the FTA said.


"The report reflects that airfreight is not only the safest and most secure form of freight transport, but for some companies it is also the most cost-effective.


"Heathrow is currently operating at 98% capacity and needs to be able to expand to meet the needs of industry."


The FTA's comments reflect those of the Baltic Air Charter Association, which last week urged the UK's newly elected government to act quickly in implementing aviation policies.


The association said it was particularly keen to see action on anomalies in air passenger duty, runway capacity, border control and RAF Northolt, which is being used as a satellite airport.


The association said London Mayor Boris Johnson's comment that he would "lie down and stop the bulldozers building a third runway at Heathrow" after winning his seat was "not particularly helpful in delivering a solution regarding UK airport capacity" as the debate on whether to expand Heathrow or Gatwick continues to rage.


It added that a recent delay in the publication of the Airports Commission report on airport expansion, indicates that progress on a decision may be slow once the report is published.


Two weeks ago, the Conservative party won a majority of seats at the UK general election. For the past five years, the Conservative party has led the country in coalition with the Liberal Democrats.


Last week, it was also announced that Patrick McLoughlin would continue as Secretary of State for Transport and will oversee the government's response to the Airports Commission report.


Frustration has been voiced by various parties over the length of time it has taken for the Davies Commission, set up in 2012, to reach its conclusion, and calls have been made for the UK government to endorse the preferred option immediately following the publication of the report.