asked the Secretary of State for Transport how many international scheduled services currently operate out of regional airports; and how many operated in 1983.
There are about 925 individual international services per week from regional airports compared with about 690 two years ago, an increase of just over one third.
Is my hon. Friend aware that those impressive figures show the Government's commitment to regional airports? How many more routes have started from regional airports since 1983?
About 1,500 international routes are now available from regional airports, of which 100 are in use. This year alone, 14 started from Manchester and four from Birmingham.
Will the Minister undertake at least to investigate the possibility of providing full customs facilities at Inverness and Wick airports so that the potential for international flights between the highlands and Scandinavia and northern Europe can be more fully exploited?
We are always willing to investigate the possibility of additional customs facilities and I shall certainly look into the cases that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. We must, however, be sure that there is a reasonable amount of traffic to justify the cost of providing those facilities.
Will my hon. Friend give some idea of the expected increase in international routes from regional airports? What are the prospects for Manchester airport in the light of the White Paper?
The prospects for Manchester airport are excellent in view of its track record in the immediate past. There has been an increase from 3·5 million passengers per annum in 1979 to 6 million this year. Bristol has shown a 25 per cent. increase in the same period and international traffic from regional airports generally has risen from 7·6 million to 12 million passengers per annum over the same period. On the basis of experience, therefore, the future holds excellent prospects for regional airports.
Will the Minister give an assurance that those excellent prospects also apply to Carlisle?
Carlisle has had its ups and downs, but it is a good airport. I think that we have now overcome the customs problems.
Does my hon. Friend accept that there is concern in Norwich that cross-subsidy for Stansted may make fair competition difficult, if not impossible, for regional airports? Will he introduce further measures to encourage the development of regional airports and the reform of their financial structure?
Under the new Bill, which we shall introduce as soon as possible, the accounts of the various airports in the BAA system will be transparent. Any loans between airports will have to be at fully commercial rates. Norwich is an expanding airport with tremendous possibilities, especially through the inter-regional system into northern Europe. There are good prospects there, and many new routes have started up recently.
Is the Minister aware of the misleading practice by British Airways, which in its scheduled flights includes certain international flights from regional airports that go via London Heathrow? Will he confirm that the figures he has given relate to genuine international flights from regional airports exclusive of calls in London?
It is quite true that a number of passengers travel from regional airports through the London system, because the London system is the busiest international hub in the world. Our object is to build up other hubs, notably at Manchester, and we are being very successful in that policy.
Does the Minister accept that Birmingham's excellent regional airport owes a great deal of its success to the activities of the West Midlands county council in recent years? Does he also accept that many regional airport directors feel very strongly about the Government's practice of refusing permission for foreign airlines to fly direct to the regions unless that permission is linked to the withdrawal of slots by those airlines in and out of Heathrow? Will he ensure that that practice ceases?
Birmingham's recent record was not as bright as the records of many other regional airports. One of the reasons why its prospects are now extremely good is that central Government have given £20 million of taxpayers' money to develop Birmingham airport.