Alison McGregor: Airports decision vital for Scotland

Alison McGregor, chair of CBI Scotland

Alison McGregor, chair of CBI Scotland

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Building a new runway is one of the most critical decisions facing MPs. It may not be in Scotland, but the implications of failing to take action certainly are.

I say that because if we are to access as many markets as possible, the evidence clearly demonstrates that the key way to achieve this is through boosting direct flights from the UK.

Independent research demonstrates that eight new routes to emerging markets alone would provide up to a £1 billion boost to annual UK trade. And of course, what works for trade works for investment too, which explains why 85 per cent of multinationals say strong air links are a determining factor in their investment location.

Competitive airports in Scotland must be a key part of the solution. Having a range of links on our doorstep is critical for firms such as the Edrington Group, and by providing better surface access connections to our airports, we will see more successes such as the recently announced Delta daily service from Edinburgh Airport to New York JFK that will commence from next year.

Yet we have to recognise the unique and complementary role that an accessible national hub airport like Heathrow plays in connecting Scotland to the far flung regions of the world. By drawing on transfer passengers, hub airports serve on average three times as many emerging market destinations as non-hubs. Whether the BRICs of today, or the MINTs of tomorrow, a thriving national hub gives businesses in Scotland such as Scottish Leather Group new options.

But with Heathrow full and London’s Airports set to be full as early as 2025, the ability of Scotland to connect to these opportunities is becoming limited. In 1990, Heathrow served 18 UK routes. Today it serves just seven.

We have for too long stalled on making a decision, and as a result lost first-mover advantage in the markets of the future to our competitors – and it is costing us dearly. Take flights to China. By fostering links to cities like Xiamen, Wuhan and Shenyang – among others – other European hubs now have access to a Chinese market with a combined population of over 38 million that the UK does not have a single direct flight to. Our inability to do the same is like the UK refusing to trade with Canada.

The Airports Commission could not be clearer. In recommending a third runway at the UK’s hub airport, Heathrow, it has recommended the option that will deliver maximum benefit outside of the south east, for all regions of the UK. The message from businesses to our MPs here in Scotland is equally clear – play your part, vote to get it built.

Alison McGregor is chair of CBI Scotland and chief executive of HSBC Scotland

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