Immigration Bill Committee

Written evidence submitted by the Airport Operators Association (AOA) (IB 36)

Introduction

1. This response is submitted on behalf of the Airport Operators Association (AOA), the trade association representing the interests of 50+ UK airports. The AOA is the principal body the UK Government, parliamentarians, and regulatory authorities consult with on airport and aviation matters.

2. Aviation contributes some £52 billion to the economy, supports around one million jobs and provides more than £8 billion in tax revenues to the Exchequer. Over 72% of inbound visitors arrive by air.

3. The AOA is pleased to have the opportunity to respond to the call for written evidence on the Immigration Bill. Our members have grave concerns surrounding the decision by ministers to include in the new Immigration Bill provisions for a new civil penalty to be levied against air carriers and airport operators in the event of the misdirection of passengers.

Immigration Bill – Part 6

4. There is an overarching concern in our sector that plans to impose a new civil penalty for airlines or airport operators who fail to direct passengers to immigration control is wholly disproportionate given that out of 117 million passenger arrivals in the UK in 2014, under 1,000 arriving passengers were not brought to the immigration control due to port operator or carrier error.

5. While the number of misdirected passengers is already extremely low in proportion to the number of passengers passing through our airports, our airports are working hard in partnership with airlines and ground handlers to reduce this further. Bearing in mind the complexity of operations at airports in terms of the number of different players involved in seeing passengers through to immigration control - including airlines and ground handlers - there is a need to be realistic about the challenges involved in how airports, carriers and ground handlers can reduce extremely low numbers still further.

6. The AOA believes that the proposals will inflict costs and burdens on all airports when a more proportionate course of action would be to work with those operators that are not taking appropriate action.

7. Furthermore, airports have in recent years started reporting a wider scope of incidents and improved their reporting of incidents, meaning that while there may in fact be no more incidents than previously, there has been an elevation in terms of statistics. For example, in some cases incidents are reported whereby passengers are misdirected only momentarily before the mistake is corrected and passengers are re-directed down the correct channels.

8. The detail of the civil penalty scheme, including the maximum penalty amount and the considerations which would inform decisions to impose a penalty, shall be specified in secondary legislation (subject to the negative resolution procedure) and codes of practice. The AOA has concerns around the potential impact of these proposals and is seeking further clarification as to how and under what circumstances fines might be levied and how heavy those fines might be.

9. The AOA expresses its concern that passengers may ultimately suffer as a result of disproportionate enforcement under the provisions of this bill. It is unrealistic to reduce the number of misdirected passengers to zero in the short term and new rules will inevitably have to be factored into airport running costs, with those additional costs ultimately being passed onto the passengers.

November 2015

Prepared 5th November 2015