Aviation and the UK General Election
By Ben Vogel, Editor of IHS Jane’s Airports Review
As the UK prepares for a General Election, we are none the wiser as to where the main parties stand on the biggest aviation issue: whether Heathrow or Gatwick will be given the green light to build a new runway.
In their 2015 election manifestos, Conservatives and Labour each shy away from stating a firm position on airport expansion (see summary below). It may be convenient for them to lie low, say nothing and hide behind the Airports Commission timetable, lest they be seen to be trying to influence the Commission’s deliberations; a more pragmatic explanation is that overt support for Heathrow or Gatwick expansion would trigger internal dissent. The Liberal Democrats remain consistent in their opposition to any new runways to serve London. This may render meaningless their manifesto pledge to “carefully consider” the Airports Commission’s conclusions.
Arguably the most intriguing issue is the possible influence of the Scottish National Party (SNP) over post-election aviation policy in the UK. The SNP mentioned transport just once in its 2010 General Election manifesto – but after its unsuccessful campaign for independence in 2014, the SNP called for full devolution of Air Passenger Duty (APD) powers to Holyrood. If the SNP, as opinion polls predict, will hold the balance of power in Westminster after 7 May, APD may become an important bargaining chip.
Decoupling APD in Scotland from the rest of the UK could have severe consequences for airports in Northern England such as Durham-Tees Valley, Newcastle, Liverpool, Leeds-Bradford and Manchester. They are likely to oppose APD devolution vigorously as it would place them at a competitive disadvantage compared with Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Prestwick.