I’m delighted to join you tonight.
And it’s a real pleasure to be back here in the magnificent setting of the Grosvenor House Great Room once again.
Not only one of the largest ballrooms in Europe. But also, one of the most historic.
Over the decades, this room has served as:
An ice rink, in fact it was here where Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen Elizabeth II, learned to skate at just 7 years of age.
A mess for US officers during World War II, when General Eisenhower and General Patton were frequent visitors.
And, in the 1960s, the venue for a Beatles concert – and many leading title fights when this was known as the home of British boxing.
This room has also become established in recent years as the home of the AOA Annual Dinner.
And a fitting backdrop for one of the best nights in the aviation calendar.
So I’m very grateful to Ed [Anderson – Chairman] and his team for inviting me this evening.
6 years of change
I’d like to start tonight by taking you back to the 2010 AOA dinner.
The guest speaker that year was Sir Tim Clark, President of Emirates.
Tim’s opening words were:
Well, what a torrid, volatile, 18 months this has been.
Multiple banking failures.
Multiple airline failures.
Multiple travel trade failures.
And all in an election year.
What a difference 6 years make.
Britain today is in a completely different place.
A much reduced deficit.
And a strong, growing economy.
Governments like to take credit for big achievements like these.
And I’m not going to change that tradition tonight.
But we’re only partly responsible.
The people who are actually delivering growth.
And making the country more prosperous.
Wherever you look across Britain, airports are preparing for the future.
Building bigger terminals.
Opening new markets for British business.
Expanding into ventures like business parks.
This is one of the most entrepreneurial sectors of our economy.
Which is why UK airlines have enjoyed sustained growth.
Why passenger numbers at UK airports have reached record levels.
And why I believe this industry is going to flourish further over the next decade.
Great businesses flourish for all sorts of reasons.
But there’s one advantage they all share.
They understand their customers.
One of the challenges for airports is the sheer diversity of the customer base.
That means you have to be increasingly sensitive to passengers’ different needs.
Take people with a disability, for example.
Airports do a good job of helping physically disabled passengers.
But what about people whose disabilities are not immediately noticeable.
Those with hidden disabilities?
For dementia sufferers, air travel can be confusing, and even frightening.
Crowded terminals. Security checks. And fear of flying itself.
All these factors can deter people from travelling.
According to CAA research, as many as 7% of all people could be avoiding air travel because of a hidden disability.
That’s a sobering statistic.
And when the CAA did a review of airports’ and airlines’ current arrangements, they found a wide variation in standards and practices.
Some airports were described as ‘significantly under-prepared’ for this type of traveller.
However, there were some impressive examples of good practice too.
At Gatwick, for instance, more than 80% of front line staff have received Dementia Champions and Dementia Friends training.
On top of this, the airport’s introduced its own NVQ Level 2 Certificate in dementia care.
Manchester Airport has a range of measures to help autistic children.
Including a downloadable autistic awareness pack on its website which provides a virtual journey through the airport.
Recently I met with members of the Prime Minister’s Dementia Taskforce.
They told me about how they’ve been working with the aviation industry on this issue.
I was particularly impressed by the feedback they received from someone who cares for a dementia patient.
Who praised the outstanding door-to-door service they’d received from EasyJet on a recent trip.
So there’s lots of great work going on.
We just need to see more of it across the industry.
So the CAA is now working with the taskforce and other disability organisations to develop tailored guidance for the industry.
The airports guidance is expected to be launched in the summer.
This is a great opportunity for the industry to move forward as a whole.
First - to ensure every airport and airline is meeting minimum EC standards of compliance.
But then to deliver over and above.
There is real scope here for airports to learn from each other.
And follow the lead of Gatwick and Manchester.
Which I know some of you are already doing.
But this isn’t about ‘one size fits all.’
Each airport will find its own solutions.
So I urge you all to consult with dementia passengers and organisations.
To really understand and respond to their needs.
So more people who currently avoid air travel can enjoy the huge benefits of flying that the rest of us take for granted.
I understand why many in the industry were disappointed that we delayed the decision on location of the additional runway we need in the south-east.
But opponents of expansion.
Who hailed the delay as some sort of victory.
Could not have been more wrong.
The decision was delayed because it was the right thing to do.
The responsible thing to do.
To make sure we’re fully prepared.
So we know we will get the job finished.
You understand better than most.
That Britain’s infrastructure-averse culture.
Has a history of derailing transport schemes.
This government is changing that culture.
But to risk any chance of failure at this stage would be unacceptable.
It’s why we’ve been so thorough with HS2, the new high speed railway.
Six years of intense planning.
The biggest consultation in government history.
Building the case, town by town, region by region.
Making sure HS2 is the very best it can be.
And that’s what we’re doing with aviation capacity.
Sir Howard Davies’ report gave us a wealth of data and analysis but you can never have too much evidence, particularly in the light of our emerging understanding of air quality issues and diesel cars.
We’re using this time to make the case for new capacity even more watertight.
Additional work to get the best possible outcome.
So we can deliver it by 2030.
As I said earlier, aviation is one of the UK’s success stories.
And we need that success to continue.
Alongside the decision on south-east capacity, there are a host of other important issues we are continuing to work on.
For example, we’re working with the industry to improve airport access.
Including up to £1.75 billion of investment in roads around Gatwick, Manchester, East Midlands, Birmingham, Heathrow and Stansted.
We’re making improvements to airport rail links - from Crossrail to HS2 to the Northern Hub.
We’re working to develop a skilled aviation workforce.
Support regional connectivity.
And reduce climate change, noise and other local environmental impacts.
I know that the issue of Air Passenger Duty (APD) is never far from your hearts.
Today (1 March 2016) is when the exemption in APD for under-16 year olds comes into effect.
Which will save a family with two children £142 on a typical holiday to Florida.
These are all national issues.
And they deserve a national conversation.
And it goes without saying that airports need to be at the heart of that conversation.
Since the 2013 Aviation policy framework the industry has moved on.
And Britain has moved on.
So we will be asking you this year to help us design the next Framework.
We want you to tell us about the past 3 years.
What have we done that’s helped you?
What haven’t we done to help you?
And how can we work together more effectively?
The AOA has always been very clear about where it agrees and disagrees with government.
I welcome that.
Just as I welcome all the feedback I get when I visit airports around the UK.
It’s a privilege for me to work with you as Aviation Minister.
And I very much value the close dialogue I have with the AOA.
It works, above all, because we share the same fundamental aspiration.
To support a growing airports industry.
That delivers for customers.
That delivers growth and jobs.
And that delivers for Britain.