Transport secretary Chris Grayling has called on the aviation industry to ensure the cost of expanding Heathrow provides value for money and benefits passengers.
In a speech to Airlines UK, Grayling laid the groundwork for how Heathrow should work with airlines on the cost and design of the third runway. He said the interests of passengers should be at the heart of any expansion plans.
Grayling said: “It remains one of my fundamental priorities to deliver the ambition I set in 2016 – to keep airport charges as close as possible to current levels – so price increases are not passed on to airlines, and ultimately consumers.”
He warned that expansion plans should be cost-efficient and sustainable, saying passengers shouldn’t be expected to pay for a “gold-plated solution”. However, he also acknowledged that “there’s little point in choosing the cheapest possible option if it is not going to benefit consumers”.
The government has commissioned the Civil Aviation Authority to oversee engagement between Heathrow airport and airlines. It will aim to ensure the interests of consumers are considered during discussions and will report to the government with updates until a formal planning application is submitted by the airport.
A crucial piece of this requirement, according to the government, is that all airlines – not just those that already have slots at Heathrow – will be invited to help shape the plans.
In addition, Heathrow’s plans will be compared to other international airports and major infrastructure projects by industry experts.
Grayling said the government will likely go ahead with its vote on the third runway this summer after considering the 80,000 consultation responses and the Transport Committee’s recommendations.
He commented: “I believe that a failure on behalf of government and Parliament to reach a final decision would be an act of national self sabotage. If we fail to act this time, who knows when we’ll next get an opportunity?”
Speaking after Grayling’s comments, Tim Alderslade, CEO of Airlines UK, said: “We’re pleased that the secretary of state is responding to airline concerns about the need to make expansion affordable for consumers.
“He is right to say that it is consumers who must stand to gain from what is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform our aviation connectivity. Expansion is paid for not by Heathrow but by airline customers in the form of charges and Heathrow must not increase these to pay for a disproportionately expensive scheme.
“Airlines are committed to working constructively with Heathrow and the CAA during this process.”
Meanwhile, Heathrow Hub, the independent proposal to extend the existing northern runway, has lodged a formal complaint against the airport with the Competition and Markets Authority, saying it used its authority as the nation’s “only hub airport” to “unfairly” veto what it calls a cheaper and more sustainable expansion plan.