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National hub role for Birmingham Airport 'still an option'

Expanding Birmingham Airport to create a second national hub or “focal” airport is a real possibility, the independent body charged by the Government with recommending future aviation policy has now said.

Birmingham Airport
Birmingham Airport

Expanding Birmingham Airport to create a second national hub or “focal” airport is a real possibility, the independent body charged by the Government with recommending future aviation policy has now said.

It is considering the option of a second hub in Birmingham or Manchester to operate alongside a hub airport in the south east.

The proposal from the Airports Commission, contained in a consultation paper, will come as a major boost to Birmingham Airport.

It follows the publication of a report by the Commons Transport Committee  which rejected Birmingham's proposals and instead called for the expansion of Heathrow Airport.

But the Airports Commission has now made it clear that all options remain on the table despite the House of Commons findings.

It has published a discussion paper called Airport Operational Model, which asks for feedback on the best way to cope with growing demand for air travel.

The paper states: “Heathrow’s runways are already full at most times of the day, while Gatwick is forecast to be unable to accommodate any additional services by around 2020, as is London City.

“Stansted and Birmingham are forecast to be full by around 2030, although Birmingham and Manchester could have spare capacity beyond 2030 assuming some further improvements to infrastructure and operations.”

While London businesses and some airlines are pushing the Government to solve the problem by expanding capacity in the south, either by building a new runway at Heathrow or building a brand new airport, the Commission makes it clear other options are on the table.

It asks: “Could the UK support more than one focal airport? For example, could an airline or alliance establish a secondary hub outside London and the South East, for instance in Manchester or Birmingham?”

The Commission is asking for responses to the discussion paper by July 11.

Sir Howard Davies, the Chair of the Airports Commission, said: “There is an important public debate in progress about the strengths and weaknesses of different airport operating models.

“The Airports Commission will need to give these arguments full and detailed consideration as we develop our assessment of the UK’s future aviation requirements.

“We believe it is particularly important to think about the way the aviation industry will change in the coming decades. Today’s industry is unrecognisable from the one a quarter of a century ago.”

Birmingham Airport, which is backed by the city’s Chamber of Commerce, Local Enterprise Partnerships and MPs across the West Midlands in its campaign to win official backing for its expansion plans, has prepared a submission to the Commission stating that it could handle 27 million passengers by 2021 with only minor developments to existing infrastructure – creating 20,000 jobs across the West Midlands.

Birmingham Airport bosses have drafted a five-point ‘game changing’ plan to encourage best-use of spare capacity in the UK and boost growth across the country.

The five-pronged plan to make best use of spare aviation capacity includes:

l Implementing a ‘congestion charge’ at over-capacity airports

l Launching a ‘Great British Airports’ marketing campaign at the 2013 World Routes convention

l Allow a trial for non-EU carriers to operate long-haul services from airports outside the south east

l Introducing a differential tax regime at airports with spare capacity

l Promoting consumer choice through surface access improvements

The submission was endorsed by representatives of business in the Midlands including local enterprise partnerships, transport groups and Birmingham Chamber of Commerce Group.

Paul Kehoe, airport chief executive, said: “Birmingham Airport has long been banging the drum for making better use of existing aviation capacity and we thank the Airports Commission for putting this centre stage in the short-medium term.

“The airport and our business partners have outlined five practical ways that we can make the most of existing resources. The results of this would be game-changing for the Midlands. Not only would we see more choice for passengers, but we’d directly create jobs and build better aviation links to trade abroad.

“I believe this is the first important step to getting the great airports that this country’s great cities need.”

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