Can smaller airports help solve Britain’s capacity problem?

Last month, the Transport Select Committee announced a new policy inquiry focusing on the role and policy needs of UK airports that currently handle less than five million passengers a year.

This will be a significant opportunity for airports across the country to voice their opinions on both general aviation policy as well as the specifics of their own situation.

According to the Committee, the Smaller Airports Inquiry is keen to focus on everything from the strategic importance of smaller airports for regional economic development, to more general issues around competitiveness, rationalisation and commercial viability.

With nearly fifty airports in the UK being eligible under the scope of this inquiry - including established players such as Newcastle, East Midlands and Liverpool John Lennon, emerging upper rung competitors such as Cardiff and London Southend all the way down to the recently closed Manston Airfield in Kent – it is likely that the inquiry could help provide some much needed rebalancing away from the exclusive headline focus on Heathrow versus Gatwick.

Despite the substantial amount of public spending on transport infrastructure over recent years, aviation has, in policy terms at least, generally been treated as the ugly (or more politically troublesome) cousin of rail, road and sea transport. Policymakers will be hoping that, with the Airports Commission also expected to publish its final report in the summer of next year, the government thereafter will finally be able to act upon a solid mandate to prevent the UK sliding back against its global competitors by taking critical steps to tackle the capacity issue.

More specifically, by opening up to the smaller airports who may not have the resources to ‘put the message out’ on a regular basis, alongside all the noise made by the top four operators, this inquiry could well bring to the fore some previously unheard solutions, which could, if the advice is followed, help second and third tier airports compete at the top table for some of Europe’s biggest routes.

Though it is almost impossible to predict what will happen during the course of this inquiry, one thing is for certain, it couldn’t have come at a better time.

Airport investors, take note.


The Transport Select Committee’s deadline for written submissions is Friday 3 October 2014.

If you or your organisation would like Freshwater’s advice on how to engage effectively with the Smaller Airports Inquiry or with any other political body, then please feel free to call us on 0207 067 1595 or email us at


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