UK aviation minister speaks on Heathrow, regional connectivity and hidden disabilities at conference

Baroness Sugg, the aviation minister in the UK, delivered a keynote speech at the British-Irish Airports Expo earlier this week which included comments on Heathrow’s expansion, regional connectivity in the UK and the new report by the Civil Aviation Authority which examines the progress made by airports in the country in supporting passengers with hidden disabilities.

The minister was first to highlight progress made in improving the passenger experience for those with hidden disabilities such as dementia or autism. Sugg mentioned that the government would aim to support smaller airports in regard to this whom lack the resources to cope.

Baroness Sugg also mentioned that a current aviation strategy would aim to help smaller airports in terms of implementing security effectively, which is a challenge in terms of costs and other resources.

The aviation minister fully backs expansion at London Heathrow stating that passengers and businesses will both benefit from added capacity. A detailed procurement plan is already in place, Sugg mentioned, and a third runway would boost the national economy by £74bn, according to her prediction.

Baroness Sugg noted that 15% of slots at Heathrow would be reserved for domestic flights expanding regional connectivity from the airport. The minister echoed the comments made by those in parliament who are in favour of Heathrow’s third runway by noting these slots would be ring-fenced by the government if needed. To what extent this is possible remains unclear.

It is debatable whether the UK government even has the capacity to ring-fence slots. Current EU regulations do not allow slots to be ring-fenced. Will ring-fencing slots be allowed once the UK has finalised leaving the European Union – a policy change in a post-Brexit UK?

A third runway at London Heathrow would boost the national economy by £74bn, according to the UK aviation minister.

Sugg also mentioned that Heathrow’s expansion would allow easyJet, which stated its case for operating from London Heathrow, to scale its low-cost model at the airport. The government seems to believe easyJet at Heathrow is as good of a bonus as the airline itself.

Support for Heathrow’s expansion and the building of a third runway to expand capacity is widespread in government and in the south-east of England. The cabinet have already backed the expansion, however MP’s are still yet to vote on whether the expansion will go ahead. The industry is, however, closer to knowing if a third runway will be built than ever before.