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18/12/2012 - Regional Transport Partnerships Take the Campaign to Europe

Transport groups campaigning to ensure the north of Scotland's connectivity to and from London and the rest of the world is safeguarded for future years have raised their concerns with the European Union.

The directors of Nestrans and HITRANS, the statutory regional transportpartnerships for the north-east and Highlands and Islands respectively,travelled to Brussels to put forward the case for the European Commission to create a regulatory regime which protects the current Heathrow landing slots held by Aberdeen and allows for future provision from Inverness.

Derick Murray and Ranald Robertson met with Margus Rahouja, senior aviation adviser at the EC Transport Commission, to highlight the global nature of the north and north-east economies and the crucial role that air transport plays in ensuring their continued prosperity.

During the meeting they expressed concern over the continued lack of capacity at Heathrow and the vulnerability of domestic routes.

Increased rail connectivity between the central belt of Scotland and the North and Midlands of England through the proposed introduction of High Speed Rail will substantially reduce the numbers of flights between the major cities of the UK and London.

While this will release a number of landing slots at Heathrow, the transport bodies fear that without the regulatory framework to protect them, it could result in the more peripheral regions which have a greater reliance on air access to the national hub losing out to more profitable long haul routes.
"Aberdeen Airport is very well connected within the UK and has good access to a number of the European hubs," said Nestrans director Derick Murray.

"However, by far the main airport to connect to Aberdeen is Heathrow. There are more passengers choosing to fly to or via Heathrow than to or via all the other hub airports together but Heathrow actually serves significantly fewer domestic airports than it used to.

"In looking for growth, both the congested hub airports and airlines are attracted to using higher volume aircraft to increase revenue and flight slots previously used for domestic connections have been given over to larger aircraft serving long haul traffic. This puts the more peripheral regions which have a greater reliance on air access to the national hub in a worrying position.

"The whole country can benefit from the massive investment in High Speed Rail and the bright economic future of the North of Scotland can be achieved to the benefit of the UK economy as well as locally, provided our air connectivity is not compromised."

Nestrans and HITRANS have been pressing the UK Government to secure regional access, in alignment with EC Convergence policies. During the meeting they stressed the stance of the region's global businesses who have expressed the desire to anchor in the north of Scotland but have made it clear their decision will be influenced greatly by their ability to do business from the area.

"We are not alone in our concerns as many other member states are also having problems with regional connectivity. The European Union has put forward a proposal that would see a percentage of new slots generated at congested hub airports safeguarded for European routes but this has yet to garner support at the European Parliament," said HITRANS director Ranald Robertson. "It cannot be overemphasised how important an issue this is. There is a strong case for Europe to look at how slots are allocated and whether there is scope for ring-fencing certain flights to hub airports to ensure peripheral regions do not miss out in the long term. This was a very positive meeting which both sides took much away from. We will continue pushing forward in the months to come to secure the connectivity required for our regions to flourish."

The transport bodies are to issue an invitation the head official of the EU Transport Commission to travel to the north in 2013 to discuss the issue further.

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