Britain’s economy would get a £1 billion-a-year trade boost if there was just one extra flight a day to the eight fastest-growing world destinations, the CBI said today.
The employers’ organisation claimed the UK was failing to keep pace with major European competitors in winning new direct air connections to key markets such as Brazil, China and Russia.
David Lonsdale, assistant director at CBI Scotland, said: “We need to make it easier for Scots firms to access markets and customers abroad, particularly if we are to see a step change in Scotland’s export performance.
“The Scottish Government has a role to play, and can assist indigenous exporters and tourism firms by providing pump-prime funding to aid the introduction of further new direct international air services between Scottish airports and key overseas business destinations and hubs.”
Edinburgh Airport recently unveiled a £15 million route development fund and called on the public and private sectors to work together to secure new airlines and routes.
Direct flights started last year between Edinburgh and Turkey, one of the high-growth markets identified by the CBI as offering the greatest potential for trade.
CBI chief policy director Katja Hall said: “Boosting exports is critical to our long-term growth. Every day we delay expanding our connections, we risk falling further behind our competitors.
“Firms in high-growth economies are not waiting for us to make a decision before taking their business to countries with much better flight links.”
The CBI called for “immediate improvements” in access to airports and said efforts were needed to maximise capacity at Heathrow, where the £2.5 billion Terminal 2 project is due to be completed next year. In the medium term, there should be new runway capacity in southern England, while long-term options, from 2030 onwards, should include a new London airport.
Measures covering the next few years will be outlined in an interim report – due at the end of this year – from the Westminster-appointed Independent Airports Commission. Headed by former Financial Services Authority chairman Sir Howard Davies, the commission is due to publish its full report in 2015, after the next general election.
CBI business environment policy director Rhian Kelly said: “The Davies commission must be bold and set out a clear path forward.
“It needs to provide all of our airports with a sustainable licence to grow, with the ability to link exporters with new opportunities. This means tackling the growth pinch-points in the air and on the ground.”
Aviation minister Simon Burns said: “This government is determined to find a lasting solution to maintain the UK’s global aviation hub status and secure the kind of benefits that the CBI has identified.
“That is precisely why we have asked Sir Howard Davies to conduct a detailed, independent review of all the options, based on the most up-to-date information.
“Previous attempts to tackle the question of airport capacity have failed, often due to a lack of consensus on the evidence. Our approach is to build a strong political consensus so we can plan for the future. A rushed decision is not an option.”