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18 Apr 2007 : Column 420

The provision of chutes and lifts in areas where staff regularly have to handle manual items such as wheelchairs is essentially a matter for the airport’s management. As part of the development of the airport’s capital expenditure programme, I would expect that to be the subject of consultation between the airport and its customer airlines, which are likely to have in mind the implications for their ground handling suppliers of investing—or of failing to invest—in facilities that support ground handling activities.

I am aware that concern has been expressed about the space to accommodate extra handlers. The CAA accepted Gatwick’s contention that congestion was primarily a function of peak passenger demand at the airport, rather than being related to the number of ground handlers operating. In its 1998 decision, the CAA had noted that it would be possible to review the limit on the number of handlers should circumstances change significantly from those then prevailing at Gatwick. The CAA said that it now expected Gatwick airport to work with all handlers to ensure that adequate space was sought and used appropriately.

The CAA notified all interested parties of its decision to remove the limit on the number of ground handling service providers at Gatwick on 14 February 2007. Gatwick airport was therefore free to appoint a fifth handler at any time after this date.

I understand what my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley said about the speed with which a fifth operator was announced, and her observation that that generated scepticism about the consultation process among existing ground handling staff. However, I can assure both her and them that the airport’s preparations had no effect on the CAA’s decision.

I understand that the airport had to act rapidly to complete the appointment, as a number of the existing ground handling contracts were due to expire at the end of March. An orderly handover of business was needed, in the interests of the airport and of its customers and staff.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley for speaking up on behalf of people who are an integral part of the Gatwick airport team. I assure both her and her constituents that I shall continue to take a close interest in the matters that have been raised in the House tonight.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty - five minutes past Seven o’clock.

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