It’s both an honour and a great pleasure to be with you today (7 July 2010) as the new aviation minister.
I’d like to use this occasion to applaud the major contribution the airport industry makes both to the economy and to the lives of millions of people.
From the jobs created to the communities connected the life-changing opportunities generated by air travel play a hugely important and positive role in modern Britain and I pay tribute to all of you here and the companies you represent for the work you do make that possible.
And it’s always important to expressly acknowledge the special role regional airports play in the economy.
So often at the heart of the regional economies they serve I’m sure everyone here will be well aware of the major importance of these airports and the connectivity they provide.
Let me assure you that the new government’s aviation policy will always seek to take on board the regional airport perspective in the decisions we make.
That’s why we’ve asked the AOA to join the taskforce on airports in the south east to give a perspective from across the industry and across the country.
And I’d like to assure you that the new government is acutely aware of the grave challenges the industry as a whole faces right now.
First you were hit by the world-wide recession which dented consumer confidence cut passenger numbers and hit jobs and profits.
Then just as the UK began tentatively emerging from the devastating downturn the Eyja-fjalla-jokull volcano blasted millions of tons of ash into the atmosphere leading to unprecedented airspace restrictions across Europe.
Add to that the ongoing and intense debate on the environmental impact of aviation both locally, in terms of noise and air quality, and globally, in terms climate change and it’s clear the ingenuity, innovation and determination for which your industry is so well known will be stretched over the coming years.
I am confident that you will rise to the challenge as you always have done in the past.
And I want to assure that that creating the right conditions for a successful and sustainable future for the UK’s airports and aviation industry is an important priority for this government.
I’d like to mention just a few examples of what we’re doing to bring this about.
Firstly, there’s the very difficult work we are undertaking to tackle the deficit put the economy on a sound footing and relieve the burden of red tape and regulation on the business community as a whole.
There will be pain in the months and years to come as we seek to grapple with the devastating crisis in the public finances we inherited from our predecessors.
But painful as it will be it’s the only way to secure the economic stability needed for your industry and others to invest and flourish in the way needed to create jobs and revive prosperity.
Secondly we need to take care to ensure that the reform of APD to which the coalition is committed results in a new system which is both fair and workable.
We’ll think to think carefully about how to achieve a reform that and delivers the goal of promoting a switch to flying greener fuller plans but does so without imposing disproportionate burdens on your industry.
I’ll be working with treasury colleagues with this aim in mind.
Having had extensive and productive discussions on this issue with your industry in opposition I’m keen for that dialogue to continue in government.
Thirdly, we want to support your efforts in improving the passenger experience.
That’s why, in the Queen’s speech, we announced a bill to modernise airport economic regulation.
It’s also the reason that I will be chairing the newly established South East Airports Taskforce.
This group will explore options for making the best use of existing airport infrastructure within the capacity constraints the new government has set with its decision to rule out new runways at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted.
Fourthly it is clear that we need to keep security arrangements at our airports under constant review so that we can deliver the twin goals of maintaining high standards for passenger security and minimising the hassle security procedures cause.
There can be no doubt that measures needed to address the heightened terror threat have come at the cost of a deterioration in the passenger experience not to mention the obvious financial cost to airports and airlines.
There are no simple answers here but we will strive for progress and improvement in this area.
For a start I’d say we need a more intelligent approach with a greater focus on outcomes leaving more flexibility for operators in determining the best way to deliver those outcomes.
Fifthly and finally I would highlight the urgent work we are undertaking with the CAA with airlines and with manufacturers on volcanic ash.
We’re acutely aware that the threat has not gone away.
We’re also acutely aware of the gravity of the impact of the crisis on the airports and aviation industry and passengers.
So we’re determined to continue to make real progress in improving the robustness of the regulatory framework and strengthening the UK’s resilience in the face of any recurrence of volcanic activity.
To conclude ladies and gentleman the ash cloud crisis provided a vivid and timely reminder of just how dependent we all are on flying.
Whether it’s for business or leisure tourism or trade air travel is woven into the fabric of our modern way of life in our increasingly inter-connected and inter-dependent world.
So, yes, there’s clearly no shortage of challenges ahead.
But I am confident that working together we have every chance of meeting those challenges improving the passenger experience and creating the right conditions for a successful and sustainable future for our airports and aviation industry.