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Airport Infrastructure

Volume 403: debated on Tuesday 8 April 2003

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What estimate she has made of the capacity of Scotland's airport infrastructure to keep up with projected growth in passenger numbers. [106714]

As my hon. Friend is aware, the Government are currently involved in a consultation exercise on the development of air transport in the United Kingdom. The closing date for representations is 30 June.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. I give a warm welcome to the Scottish Executive's plans to build rail links to Glasgow and Edinburgh airports and to the BAA's announcement of a £200 million investment plan to double the capacity of Glasgow airport over the next 10 to 12 years. However, does she agree that, in the longer term—20 to 30 years from now—the interests of Scotland as a whole would be best served by one major hub airport that would provide more jobs and services than would otherwise be the case?

I commend my hon. Friend's question and recognise his considerable interest in transport matters, not least when he was a member of the Transport Committee. He is one of the experts on transport policy in the House.

I recall that many years ago, when I was the economist for the Scottish TUC and my hon. Friend was a trade union official, there was a significant debate on a central Scotland airport. At the time, it was found to be unviable. The current consultation exercise offers the opportunity to explore that further, but it seems that the viability of a central Scotland airport has not yet been proved.

I know that my hon. Friend is proud of the success of Glasgow airport and that he has contributed to that. It is going from strength to strength in terms of passenger numbers. The Scottish Executive are committing considerable resources to a rail link not just to Glasgow airport but to Edinburgh airport as well. I am delighted that there has been a 40 per cent. increase in passenger numbers over the past five years and that the number of direct flights from Scotland has grown from 18 to 25. A large part of that success can be put down to the campaigning undertaken by my hon. Friend.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that when I was at the Scottish Office in the '70s we ruled out the central airport because of fog, and that nothing has changed since then? Does she agree that Scotland needs many budget airlines that operate from all airports, including Prestwick and Inverness? What action is she taking, in conjunction with the Department of Trade and Industry and the Scottish Executive, to attract such services to Scotland?

A considerable number of budget airlines operate out of Scotland. We only have to look to the success of Prestwick airport in attracting Ryanair, greatly assisted by my hon. Friends the Members for Ayr (Sandra Osborne), for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) and for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), to know that. Indeed, there are more and more every week.

I am delighted by the success of the easyJet flights from Inverness to Gatwick. I am also delighted by the improved services to charter destinations from Inverness. I met representatives of British Airways last autumn to get their commitment to continue services from Inverness to London. It is a success story, which the hon. Lady would know if she visited Scotland more often.

I thank the Secretary of State for her unstinting support for Glasgow Prestwick international airport. Will she acknowledge, however, that in spite of its great success as Scotland's fastest growing passenger airport, it has a great deal of spare capacity? Does she agree that that should be utilised before we talk about expansion elsewhere?

There is scope to expand all Scotland's airports and we want more international airlinks as our economy continues to prosper. It is encouraging to note that there are proposals for even more direct airlinks from Glasgow international airport at Prestwick. Much of that is down to my hon. Friend's campaigning. I know that my constituents greatly appreciate the opportunity to take their holidays and to pursue their business interests from an airport that is so close to home.