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IATA’s Bisignani launches attack on state of UK aviation policy

In an address to the UK Aviation Club, IATA’s head Giovanni Bisignani gave the current UK aviation policymakers what can only be called a “thrashing”, finding little to applaud in recent decisions.

On the environmental front, he said that “at one point, the UK was the epicentre of environmental hysteria over aviation. Even the Bishop of London added flying to the list of mortal sins.”

After noting the steps taken to improve the industry’s environmental footprint, he cited the UK's despised Air Passenger Duty (APD) and, sparing no scorn, called its imposition “potty”. Additionally, he called the fees excessive and charged that they have little to do with aviation and everything to do with governmental shortfalls and failures in the financial sector.

Disregard for reason and moderation

Moving to infrastructure cost, he reminded attendees that the World Economic Forum report on "Travel and Tourism Competitiveness" ranked the UK at the very bottom of its list, occupying slot number 133 in a field of 133.

Especially taken to task was London’s Heathrow, which has increased fees and charges by spectacular amounts even as the industry struggled with costs. The extended battle over additional runway capacity, now apparently a no-go, has already begun to crimp service as witnessed by the recent cessation of LHR-GLA service by BMI.

Heathrow in decline

While acknowledging that LHR still is the world’s busiest international airport, Mr Bisignani predicted that in the near term it will be outclassed by other nearby European hubs that have expanded with traffic growth. He believes that LHR will soon be relegated to secondary status and noted that direct service destinations from LHR are down 20% from 1980.

He went on to caution the UK Government to avoid any rash decisions regarding aviation in response to the current fiscal crisis, emphasising a long-term perspective.

In response to the headlines caused by harsh weather, he pointedly said that, “shoveling snow is not rocket science” and again chided the airport and its managers on their performance.

A stern warning, a glimmer of hope

As he concluded, there was little softening in his tone or criticism as he said: “Competitiveness is like relevance. It is hard won and easily lost. The UK is the second largest country market for international travel. Its airlines have brought some of our greatest product innovations. Its airports are among the world’s busiest. But the government’s policy pillars of excessive taxes, inefficient airport regulation and limiting growth will destroy this proud legacy.”

Stating that he intends to relocate to the UK following his IATA term, he closed by giving the current system his traditional "basta", urging reform and change to keep Britain and its aviation sector, "safe, green, growing and competitive".