Business leaders condemn government report for not recognising Birmingham Airport’s economic potential

BUSINESS leaders in Birmingham have criticised a government report on the future of UK airports for overlooking the “crucial role” Birmingham Airport could play.

The Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce said the potential for the airport to capture thousands of new passengers was not being considered.

It has written to MPs Louise Ellman, chair of the Common’s Transport Select Committee, and committee member Chloe Smith to outline its view.

GBCC chief executive Jerry Blackett said he was disappointed the recent Airports Commission interim report had overlooked the crucial role Birmingham Airport played in supporting the local and national economy.

“I would be delighted to invite you and other members of the Transport Select Committee to visit businesses in Birmingham to showcase how Birmingham Airport can help drive the export-led recovery,” he told the MPs.

“While we are pleased that Birmingham Airport has been identified as a long-term option for development in the Airports Commission, we believe that the report has not demonstrated a modal shift in UK aviation policy and has not fully examined the role of aviation in supporting the rebalancing of the UK economy.

“The catchment area for Birmingham Airport is home to half a million businesses (approximately 25% of British business) and has the largest share of manufacturing activity of all airport catchment areas.”

The potential of the airport to attract new business has never been better underlined than the decision by low cost carrier Flybe to increase the number of flights it makes from the airport.

In one of its largest ever investment in regional services, the airline is launching seven new flights from Birmingham, siting three new jets at the airport and creating 50 new jobs.

It says the expansion is warranted because of the potential of the airport to attract the new business.

The move has also established Birmingham as its largest regional base.

Blackett adds: “In 2008, the value of West Midlands exports stood at around £16.8bn.  By 2012, this had increased to £22.6bn, with exports to Asia growing rapidly. The Birmingham Airport runway extension, opening later this year, will put the airport in the top six longest runways thus enabling longer haul flights.

“Businesses in the Birmingham Airport catchment area are exporting more goods to emerging markets in Asia and the Middle East than any other airport. As we have seen, the burgeoning middle-class in China has driven demand for products by West Midlands manufacturers, such as Jaguar Land Rover, and this will rapidly increase demand for air connectivity.  We need to ensure that this growth story is not stifled by a lack of access to emerging markets.”

This was a point made by the head of the West Midlands UK Trade & Investment organisation, Paul Noon. Speaking at the announcement of the new Flybe flights he said the expansion of the airport was good news for businesses looking to tap into new opportunities in Europe.

Blackett said the interim report also omitted a detailed examination of the transformational effects of HS2 on Birmingham Airport and the regional economy.

“Birmingham Airport’s close proximity to the HS2 Interchange Station means it would benefit substantially from the HS2 connectivity packages and transport improvements that have been proposed by Birmingham City Council and Centro, thus expanding its catchment even further,” he said.

“The Airports Commission report could have gone much further in exploring the role of both HS2 and other economic assets across the West Midlands, such as UK Central. We feel that the Airports Commission interim report largely represents conventional thinking. As such, we would encourage you to visit Birmingham businesses to highlight the challenges and opportunities to develop a regional airport strategy.”