Transport CommitteeFurther written evidence from the Manchester Airports Group (AS 44A)

The current fifth freedom policy (the presumption in favour of granting fifth freedom rights to UK regional airports), whilst helpful, also requires reciprocal access for UK airlines. Regional airports, such as Manchester, rely on overseas airlines to maximise regional long haul connectivity.

UK airlines have consolidated their international connections at London Heathrow. As they have vested interests in their own services from London, they have in part used this to protect their own parochial interest, at the expense of new services from the regions. An example of this being the Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong to Manchester via Moscow in 2006, which was successfully challenged by BMI on account of the Manchester—Moscow leg, and was ultimately withdrawn. In this case, the Russian authorities were willing to grant the necessary rights to Cathay Pacific to operate the Manchester—Moscow route on a code share with a Russian airline. UK airlines, including bmi, objected to the UK DfT agreeing to this because it did not benefit UK airlines. In other words, UK airlines do not want to serve the regions internationally on a point to point basis, but do not want their overseas competitors to do so either. This has been to the detriment of UK connectivity.

Furthermore, international airlines make decisions on which markets to investigate on the basis of how likely they are to secure the flying rights, and how difficult they perceive the process would be to achieve them. We are meeting airlines that are looking to serve the UK on routes to the US, but they perceive the process of being granted these rights by the UK Government to be too difficult based on UK airline objections. UK airlines don’t fly their own scheduled services direct from the regions to key cities in the States or other long haul destinations as their interests are to direct passengers through their London hub, and so the regions suffer in terms of providing connectivity and choice for local people.

This is something that will not be changed, even with the proposal for open skies at UK regions in the Draft Aviation policy framework, which states that although reciprocal access for UK airlines will not be required, each application will be taken on a case by case basis and may not be granted for reasons such as state aid. However, airlines in receipt of state aid already operate to and from the UK. It lacks consistency therefore to restrict fifth freedom rights on this basis, a restriction which would not be in the best interests of passengers or in the interests of rebalancing the UK economy and making best use of existing capacity.

24 December 2012

Prepared 31st May 2013