Since the next Government will need to make a decision on airport expansion very shortly after the election, you might have thought the issue would feature prominently in manifestos. However, the Airports Commission reporting after the election means that some parties have been able to say very little on the topic.
With the election just a few days away, we take a look at what political parties have been saying about airports and other aviation related issues, particularly Air Passenger Duty (APD) and the possibility it will be devolved to Scotland.
Alliance (Northern Ireland)
The Alliance party manifesto promises to advocate “for an early decision, within the first year of the next Parliament, on airport capacity in the south-east of England. We will also push for decision to recognise the need for an international airport ‘hub’ in the UK and for any expansion to take account of the specific needs of business exports, such as cargo capacity and connectivity.”
The party also supports the reduction or abolition of Air Passenger Duty across the UK.
In their manifesto, the Conservative Party only say “we will…respond to the Airports Commission’s final report”. However, with several prominent Conservative figures actively opposed to expanding Heathrow, including Theresa May, Phillip Hammond, Adam Afriye and Zac Goldsmith, it is thought that the party would encounter significant internal tension if the Commission recommend a new runway at Heathrow.
The party manifesto contains no mention of APD. However, David Cameron has said in public that a Conservative government would draw up plans within months of the election to examine how to vary rates of APD. These comments were made to the Northern Echo in response to concerns that devolution of APD to Scotland would negatively impact North East airports.
Democratic Unionist Party (DUP – Northern Ireland)
The DUP manifesto says that the party supports the expansion of airport capacity in the South East and will support the recommendations of the Airport Commission. DUP supports explicitly Heathrow expansion.
DUP also supports abolishing APD.
Green Party (England and Wales)
The Green Party manifesto focuses on the fact that aviation is significantly undertaxed, saying the sector receives a subsidy amounting to GBP £16 billion a year by paying no tax on fuel and having VAT zero rated. The manifesto calls for an end to these tax breaks and the introduction of a sector specific aviation emissions target of below 37.5 million tonnes CO2 equivalent a year, which AEF called for in its joint policy proposals document.
The party opposes airport expansion and calls for a ban on night flights.
The Labour manifesto says:
“following the Davies Review, we will make a swift decision on expanding airport capacity in London and the South East, balancing the need for growth and the environmental impact.”
Several senior Labour figures have been recorded as saying they accept there is a need for additional airport capacity, including Ed Balls. Yet Ed Miliband was opposed to Heathrow expansion when part of the previous Labour Government and is thought to only support expansion if stringent environmental limits, related to air pollution and CO2 emissions, can be met.
APD is not mentioned in the party manifesto but Labour have been recorded as saying they would introduce a mechanism to ensure that APD changes do not negatively impact other parts of the UK, in a similar commitment to the Conservatives.
The Liberal Democrat manifesto maintains explicit opposition to expansion of Heathrow, Stansted, Gatwick and a Thames Estuary airport as well as a commitment to no net increase in runways across the UK. This follows on from the membership vote to maintain this position despite calls from the party leadership to remove opposition to a Gatwick runway.
Despite the above, the party says that it will consider the Airports Commission’s recommendations and develop an airports policy for the whole of the UK following advice from the Committee on Climate Change. The party’s manifesto states a clear link between aviation policy and making carbon reductions, which is not the case for Labour or the Conservatives.
The Lib Dems comment in their manifesto about devolving APD to Wales that they would consider the work of the Government’s review on devolution of APD with a view to devolving long-haul APD. In an article on TTG, a business travel website, the Lib Dems highlight the fact that aviation as a sector is undertaxed, paying no fuel duty or VAT, and say that APD helps to make up some of the shortfall.
The Plaid Cymru party manifesto states “(w)e will not support the creation of a major new UK airport to the east of London”, referring to the Thames Estuary airport supported by Boris Johnson. The party also calls for APD to be devolved for both short and long haul flights to the Welsh Government.
Scottish National Party
The SNP make no mention in their party manifesto about airport expansion. However, given the party is expected to make major gains across Scotland, the SNP could play a crucial role in deciding what happens following the Davies Commission’s announcement.
On APD, the SNP say that the party “will press for the early devolution of APD…to encourage more direct flights to Scotland with a reduction of 50% and longer term plans to abolish APD completely.”
The party also makes a pledge on climate change to “use our influence at Westminster to ensure the UK matches, and supports, Scotland’s ambitious commitments to carbon reduction“. The Scottish Climate Change Act includes emissions from international aviation and so could the SNP push the next Government towards formally including international aviation in the UK Climate Change Act?
Despite the party around Heathrow and Gatwick being vocally opposed to expansion, the UKIP manifesto says it will consider the Airports Commission’s recommendations before taking a position. UKIP’s manifesto also states that the party believes that re-opening Manston Airport would release additional capacity in the South East.
Carbon Brief have produced a table looking at wider environmental issues, available here.