MINISTERS have been warned off airport reforms that could remove landing slots at Heathrow for planes from the North East.
As Whitehall considers responses to consultation on the future of airport provision, councils across the region have sent a united response calling for tax reform, guaranteed landing slots at London’s biggest airport and a call for safeguards to prevent Scotland taking trade from Newcastle International Airport.
Pressure is also coming from MP Guy Opperman, who told Parliament that the unpopular Air Passenger Duty included absurd anomalies.
The Conservative, who represents Hexham, made the claim as pressure mounts on ministers to prove they are committed to a re-balancing of the UK economy by backing regional airports. The need for change was stressed in a joint response by 12 council leaders coming together at the Association of North East Councils.
They are warning that protecting Newcastle’s status as a leading airport may become more difficult if Government proposals go through.
The current consultation, the association says, includes an “unhelpful” reference to the banning from Heathrow of smaller aircraft, of the sort that often arrive from Newcastle.
The association adds: “We need slots at London Heathrow for regional air services to be safeguarded and expanded.
“We also support mixed mode operations at Heathrow in order to unlock extra capacity, as well as a second runway at Gatwick.”
The Department for Transport says that “in terms of making the best use of capacity at our busiest airports, particularly Heathrow, the Government supports in principle any reasonable, non-discriminatory steps that airport operators may wish to take to limit access to smaller aircraft”.
It is feared this would pave the way for commuter slots to be cut.
And in one of the strongest warnings, council leaders make clear that the threat from an independent Scotland having tax controls could mean jobs would be lost in Newcastle.
The association said: “A devolved approach, whereby passengers could pay significantly less north of the border than they would pay south of the border, would create unfair competition and distort the market.
“The impact of significant changes to APD by the Scottish government would inevitably have a detrimental impact on the North East, with the risk of passengers and airlines moving to Scotland.”
Seven of the councils have a 51% stake in Newcastle Airport, with many privately agreeing the Tyneside airport should be the main focus following ongoing financial problems at Durham Tees Valley airport.
The Department for Transport consultation closed on October 31 and responses are now being considered.
A spokesman for Newcastle International Airport said: “We welcome the intention to ensure that any amendments to the regulations regarding slots at congested airports (ie Heathrow) recognise the importance of domestic access to London airports.
“This may not be the most economically beneficial way to use slots, but we believe that it is the best way to meet the needs of all parts of the UK.”
We support mixed mode operations at Heathrow in order to unlock extra capacity, as well as a second runway at Gatwick