The government should rule out using peak-time train fare rises to manage passenger numbers, says the Commons Transport Select Committee.
Easyjet has reported a record annual profit after cutting costs and increasing profits per passenger leaving its shares sharply higher.
Read the rest here: Easyjet reports record profits
New runways should instead be built at Stansted and Gatwick as well as Heathrow, transport select committee hears
The idea of a new hub airport should be dropped and three runways built immediately at airports in south-east England, according to the chief executive of Ryanair, Michael O’Leary.
O’Leary told MPs on the transport select committee that the argument for expanding only one central hub was driven by high-fare airlines and operators seeking to shunt passengers through Heathrow, and that new runways should be built at Stansted and Gatwick as well as Heathrow.
“London has the benefit of multiple airports, it has the infrastructure in place – get on and build three more runways,” he said.
Asked what he thought of proposals for a new hub, which the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has backed in the Thames estuary, O’Leary replied: “In parliamentary language it would be unprintable. Insane, stupid, harebrained.” He said the need for new surrounding infrastructure alone made it all but unworkable.
Private investors would pay for new runways at existing airports “in a flash”, he said, so long as they were free from the current regulatory regime.
The Ryanair boss said decades of mishandled policy meant the UK had lost out on much of the growth in the number of passengers using his airline, which had switched operations to other countries due to high airport charges and taxes.
He hit out at the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), saying: “Shut it down tomorrow as far as economic regulation goes. It has been a disaster.” He said its economists had “no grounding in reality and don’t know much about air transport at all”.
O’Leary said the Howard Davies commission, set up to consider the need for new airport capacity in the south-east, was “just another example of the UK government kicking the aviation strategy can further down the road” with “years of fudge and dither”.
He reiterated his opposition to air passenger duty, which he claimed was counterproductive. “Instead of getting the visitors into the country and taxing them when they’re here, you guys are standing by the runway like latter-day highway robbers.”
Giving evidence alongside O’Leary, Dale Keller, chief executive of the Board of Airline Representatives, said he would support O’Leary’s aspiration for runways at different airports. But he said most UK airports were functioning as efficiently as possible on limited capacity, and a bigger hub was crucial. “We need at least one airport with three or more runways,” Keller said.
Last commercial helicopter flight from Isles of Scilly to Penzance will leave on Wednesday
The curtain will fall on five decades of a helicopter service linking the Cornish mainland with Isles of Scilly on Wednesday, when the final commercial flight with British International Helicopters (BIH) leaves the islands.
BIH announced in August that it planned to close its domestic helicopter passenger route between Penzance and Scilly from 1 November.
The managing director, Tony Jones, said: “The route has run for 49 years so this is an extremely sad announcement for BIH, its employees and its customers – in fact the whole of west Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Unfortunately we had no alternative.”
The company said a number of factors, including a drop in passenger numbers and commercial reasons, were behind the decision. Around 50 people have been made redundant as a result of the closure.
It means the archipelago will be left with Skybus plane flights six days a week, and the seasonal Scillonian ferry service – both run by the Isles of Scilly Steamship Group.
Some residents described the move as “a kick in the teeth”, while others voiced concerns that Steamship Group would take advantage of its monopoly by hiking up prices.
But Alasdair Moore, editor of the Tresco Times newspaper on one of the islands, said it was not all “doom and gloom”.
He said: “Yes, on the one hand it is very sad for those staff who have given excellent service to the people of Scilly, Penzance, and tourists.
“But there can be a silver lining from this. There is a genuine possibility to fully streamline and hone the transport to and from the islands.
“There is a concern that Skybus or the Scillonian will hike up its prices, but if they are experiencing increased footfall then we need to consider whether they may in fact make their prices more competitive.”
He said islanders had been told existing transport services would be able to cope with BIH’s decision to stop flights.
The Isles of Scilly Steamship Group’s chief executive, Jeff Marston, said: “We are sad to see the helicopter go after almost 50 years of service during which time we have worked alongside one another in friendly competition, and understand the apprehension that the loss of the service has created among some people.
“But we would like to reassure everyone that we will continue to offer fixed wing and sea freight services year-round and our seasonal passenger ferry service, and are continuing to invest to ensure that we meet the needs of islanders and visitors alike for many years to come.”
The final BIH flight from Penzance will leave for Scilly at 5.05pm on Wednesday, returning to the Cornish mainland from the islands at 5.50pm.
Britain’s leading coach operator said there would be 1m fewer journeys in the first year since the government cut the grant to over-60s and disabled people
The abolition of concessionary coach travel has led to a dramatic drop in journeys taken by disabled and older people, National Express has revealed.
Britain’s leading coach operator said there would be 1m fewer journeys in the first full year since the government cut the grant which gave over-60s and disabled people half-price travel, out of 2.9m such journeys in 2011.
Despite National Express putting its own scheme in place, giving one-third off ticket prices with a £10 coach card, the company has concluded that the move “severely affected the affordability of travel for our senior citizen passengers”.
A spokesman said: “It appears people have been more price sensitive than we thought.” The dwindling numbers contributed to a difficult year for the company’s coach division.
Meanwhile campaigners called on the government to reconsider the cuts. Michelle Mitchell, charity director general of Age UK, said: “We know many older people depended on the government coach concession to get out and about and see friends and family or go further afield. It was an important way of making travel accessible and affordable which can help prevent loneliness and social isolation. But today’s figures clearly show that abolishing the concession has made it harder for people to travel, particularly in these tough times.
“Many older people live in rural areas where there is often little in the way of public transport so, if they cannot afford to take coach journeys, many will have little option but to stay at home.”
National Express has cancelled three routes since last November due to falling passenger numbers since the subsidy was withdrawn.
Richard Hebditch of the Campaign for Better Transport said: “The announcement from National Express demonstrates exactly what campaigners said would happen. By cutting support for concessionary travel, government is harming older and disabled passengers, while threatening the viability of coach services. The government should reconsider the cut in the light of this evidence.”
Officers lash out at passengers and austerity protesters as they storm into Madrid rail station
The middle-aged man sitting on a railway station bench protects a younger man by wrapping his arms around him as he shouts desperately at the helmeted, baton-wielding police officers running up and down the platforms at Madrid’s Atocha station.
“Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you!” he bellows repeatedly in a video that shows how police charged into the station during violent demonstrations that shook Madrid last week.
On the other side of the ticket barrier a younger man is whacked with truncheons by two policemen. “I don’t know whether he is a passenger or a protester,” one of them admits. A third man who was waiting for a train is bundled down the platform by police officers as he asks: “And what have I done?” A youth points to blood running down his face. “What the hell is this?” he asks.
On Friday, police told a judge they had needed to chase a group of violent protesters across the railway tracks and had later arrested some in a nearby bar. They, too, had suffered injuries. “People who had been hurling stones at police tried to hide in the station, passing themselves off as normal passengers,” a spokesman said. “We had to go in.”
As Spaniards respond with dismay to the violence shown by demonstrators, who launched attacks on police, and the response of some riot police, during scuffles in the area around Madrid’s parliament building last week, the long-running drama of the country’s deflating economy has lurched into a newly confrontational stage, amid fears that there will be more violence to come.
While police and the conservative government of prime minister Mariano Rajoy were accused of authoritarian behaviour, radical protesters from both the far left and the far right were putting a hard, street-fighting edge on to the once peaceful protests of the civilised but ineffectual indignados.
Cristina Cifuentes, the government delegate in Madrid, had warned before the protests that they were being infiltrated by violent members of Spain’s far right and were attracting the country’s most radical leftwingers. But protesters later pointed to a group of undercover policemen who, they claimed, had been at the front of the protest waving red flags and encouraging others to violence.
Other police certainly thought their undercover colleagues were troublemakers, and there is also film of one of them being dragged out of the crowd to be arrested and shouting: “I am a colleague! I am a colleague!”
On Saturday, a 72-year-old man was among some 30 demonstrators who had been accused of attacking police and given bail. “But I was sitting down when they arrested me,” he said.
The radicalisation came amid worries that the ratings agency Moodys would downgrade Spain’s creditworthiness, reigniting the pressure on its debt and sending the interest rates that it must pay spiralling up again.
Ministers have said that €10bn (£8bn) of cuts and tax increases must come in next year’s budget just to cover a leap in interest payments. On Friday night, they said a coming round of bank bailouts, paid for by the eurozone rescue fund, would send the country’s debts soaring by some €50bn. Spending is to be cut by 7% next year, bringing another wave of cuts in health, education and other welfare services. Yesterday, Spain’s civil servants heard that, for the third year running, their wages were being frozen.
A period of calm in Europe’s more troubled economies created by the European Central Bank president Mario Draghi, when he announced plans to buy the debt of countries who asked for bailouts in the future, also seemed to have come to an end. And with the threat of Catalan separatism adding to worries about Rajoy’s ability to control events in Spain, many now expect him to ask for a full bailout for the country – placing it in the hands of those who have forced Greece, Portugal and Ireland into round after round of spending cuts.
Budget minister Cristóbal Montoro presented an austerity budget to parliament on Saturday, with analysts widely seeing it as an attempt to pre-empt the conditions that Spain would have had imposed on it anyway for the bailout. “Reducing our budget deficit is essential,” he said.
With unemployment at 25%, however, and the economy already set to shrink for the next two years, Spaniards see no end to the tunnel of misery.
Airport to stop using controversial backscatter scanners which produce naked body image after Brussels fails to approve trial
Manchester airport is abandoning the use of controversial security scanners that produce “naked” images after failing to get approval from the European Commission.
The backscatter body scanners, Doctor Who Tardis-like blue boxes between which passengers must stand to produce a ghostly image of the body’s naked outline, will cease to be used from the end of October. The decision was made because the commission has failed to give permission in time for an existing three-year trial to be made permanent.
The scanners have proved controversial amid claims they are an invasion of passengers’ privacy. There have also been questions over safety, but a panel of independent European health experts unanimously found in March this year that there was “no evidence” they posed health risks.
The body scanners use a low dose X-ray to scan through clothing, producing naked images of passengers to determine whether they are carrying any concealed items. The Health Protection Agency had previously assessed the scanners and decided they posed a negligible risk to health. The X-ray dose was assessed as being equivalent to that received in less than two minutes of flying in an aircraft at cruising altitude.
Manchester airport said only 23 of the millions of passengers who have travelled through its security in the past three years have refused to use the scanners. Some of the refusals were on health grounds, while others were for cultural reasons.
Andrew Harrison, the chief operating officer at Manchester Airport Group, said they are baffled by the decision “because health experts say they are safe”. He said the overwhelming majority of their passengers and security staff prefer body scanners to frisking. “And it’s frustrating that Brussels has allowed this successful trial to end.”
Manchester was the only airport in Europe to use the scanners, which were introduced three years ago. The airport had been anticipating that the technology would be approved for permanent use after the study found they posed no additional risk to people’s health.
However, they say the lack of a decision from Brussels means they have no choice other than to remove the scanners.
They will be replaced by machines using radio-wave technology, similar to safety systems in the United States that identify people or objects that have fallen on to subway tracks and produce a cartoon-like image of the passenger’s body, showing any suspicious items. Five new scanners will be introduced at Manchester airport for a three-month trial. The European Commission has not yet commented.
David Cameron will pay a high price if he opts for the unfair and unpopular non-solution that Heathrow expansion represents
The prime minister believes we face a crisis over aviation capacity in London. As a result, he has put Heathrow’s third runway back into the mix. Given the “no ifs, no buts” pledge he made before the election, it’s a major leap. Combined with the removal of the well-respected transport secretary, Justine Greening, and the equally respected aviation minister, Theresa Villiers, both of whom resolutely defended the government’s stated opposition to Heathrow expansion, all this points to an imminent U-turn.
Why else would the government have announced (yet another) aviation review that will not report until the summer of 2015? After all, if we face a crisis of undercapacity, it is surely odd that the only policy we have in place is an absolute commitment to do nothing for three years. There is only one explanation: the government believes it can press on with a third runway, and without fronting up to the electorate.
This matters for countless reasons. First, political promises need to mean something. As William Hague has said, there’s no justification in U-turns unless the facts change significantly, which they have not. If there is a pre-election U-turn, my colleagues will struggle at the next election to persuade voters that their manifesto is worth the paper it’s written on.
I don’t actually believe we will see bulldozers this side of the election. That would represent an off-the-scale betrayal, and would be noted by voters everywhere. It would also be logistically difficult to pull off. But unless the government is clear with voters it will be assumed that it is wedded to a post-election green light.
A decision to expand would be the wrong decision, on every level. Despite the scaremongering, it remains a fact that Heathrow already has more flights to business destinations than any other airport in Europe. More passengers fly in and out of London than any other city in the world. We are well-connected, we have ample capacity, and we are starting from a position of strength. The problem is that we don’t use that capacity well. If we want to preserve Heathrow’s hub status, we need to stop clogging it up with point-to-point flights to places such as Cyprus and Greece, which between them account for 87 weekly flights, and contribute nothing to overall connectivity.
We also need to discourage operators guarding their slots by flying half-empty planes. Heathrow has terminal capacity for an extra 20 million passengers, and with fuller and, in places, bigger planes, we’d be able to accommodate many more. In addition, we need to encourage a shift from air to rail wherever possible. Every week, for example, there are more than 300 flights from Heathrow Brussels, Manchester, Newcastle and Paris. In time, a better high speed rail network will help.
These measures would relieve pressure on Heathrow, but by improving links to other airports, we can do more. For example, Stansted is massively underused, by nearly 50%, and with proper rail links to the City, it would be the natural place for business flights. There is no reason why we couldn’t facilitate a two-hub approach, with Heathrow catering (broadly speaking) for western-facing flights, and Stansted catering for eastern business flights.
It has been argued that these measures are inconvenient and complicated. But subjecting 2 million residents to aerial bombardment is far more inconvenient. And making room on London’s roads for an extra 25 million road passenger journeys to and from Heathrow is far more complicated.
Always on the look out for the quick answer, the government appears to have been seduced by vested interest. But it will pay a high price if it opts for the deeply unfair, and unpopular non-solution that Heathrow expansion represents.
Michael O’Leary believes next new runway in region will be at Essex airport, but Heathrow third is ‘inevitable’
Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has said he believes the next runway built in the south-east would be a second at Stansted, as he outlined his interest in bidding to run the Essex airport. But he added a third runway at Heathrow was “inevitable”.
He revealed he had been in talks with various potential investors about buying and running the airport, Ryanair’s largest UK base, since BAA announced it would no longer fight the competition commission’s ruling which forced it to sell.
The Irish airline called on the airport regulator, the CAA, to confirm if and how it will reduce Stansted’s landing charges, which Ryanair said have grown by 68% in the last five years, while traffic has significantly declined. O’Leary claimed the CAA was allowing BAA to “cook the books” by inflating Stansted’s assets. The airport is valued at £1.3bn although analysts predict it will not raise that sum.
He said: “The next runway in the south-east will be at Stansted. The south-east does need additional runway capacity: the advantage of Stansted is that it has already got planning permission, the land already exists, it’s ready to roll. What it needs is a government decision allowing it to go ahead.”
In reference to the longer term, he added: “I think a third runway at Heathrow is inevitable, then there will be a second runway at Gatwick.”
But, he said: “Not in my grandchildren’s lifetime will there be some lunatic airport in the Essex marshes or the Thames estuary or any other estuary.”
Asked whether an airline would be allowed to have a stake in the running of a British airport, he pointed out a consortium of British airlines including IAG part-owns the air traffic control service NATS. Ryanair carries two-thirds of passengers flying from Stansted.
Ryanair would limit its holdings to below 25% but would want a management role. O’Leary said he could quickly reduce costs at the “grossly mismanaged” airport by scrapping “the cathedral of check-in desks” in favour of more retail space and “blowing up the train” that takes passengers from the terminal to the departure gates, replacing it with a bridge for passengers to walk over instead.
O’Leary said he would not force passengers to pay to use a toilet should he own or run the airport. In fact, he said, his often quoted plan to make passengers pay to pee in when flying was dependent on making airport toilets the cheaper option, so he could install more seats on his plane.
For now, true to form, O’Leary confirmed that Ryanair customers “with no life and no friends” who wanted to download its new mobile booking app would have to pay €3 for the privilege. “If you want it you can pay for it.”
The bullish airline boss also said he “didn’t care” that Suzy McLeod, a Ryanair passenger, had recently won the support of hundreds of thousands of Facebook users after being forced to pay €60 per person for the airline to print out boarding passes for her family of five at Alicante airport. He said: “We think Mrs McLeod should pay for being so stupid.”
Small pain in Spain was due to a rise in air passenger duty
Last month I took a Ryanair flight to Alicante and back. Three weeks after returning, the airline has charged my Visa account an extra £1.35, citing the same reference number to the original booking. The charge could have been much higher and I am very uneasy about retrospective charges over which I have no control or knowledge. RD, Birmingham
This is a rare Ryanair letter that can be easily explained. Air passenger duty was increased by the Spanish government at the end of June and applied to flights departing from Spanish airports on/after 1 July. It is this money that Ryanair took from your account. An email explaining the situation wouldn’t have hurt. It must have cost them almost as much to collect such a small sum.
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