“Flying Matters” crashes: members fall out

11.4.2011   (TravelMole)

Flying Matters grounded

Lobby group Flying Matters has been dissolved after key members quit.

Reports this weekend say the group will disband at the end of the month after
British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and airport operators BAA and Manchester Airports
Group decided to form their own group.

The airlines and operators say the new group will “have a narrower focus” and
promote how flying benefits the economy

by Dinah Hatch
An article in the latest edition of ‘An Executive Review of Business Travel’.
Flying Matters crashes
Brian Wilson will close Flying Matters at the end of April
Pro air transport UK lobbying group Flying Matters is to be wound up at the end
of April.  This follows disagreement between senior corporate members of the organisation,
which was chaired by former Labour Energy Minister Brian Wilson.  This was particularly
with regard to APD (Air Passenger Duty) where leading members easyJet and Virgin
Atlantic disagreed over whole plane tax (with easyJet in favour and Virgin against).
The organisation did cover a wide spectrum of the industry, including both British
Airways and Unite, but there was an argument that Flying Matters carried little
weight or influence.
A number of non-partisan aviation groups do exist with some more influential
than others including The Airport Operators Association (AOA), British Air Transport
Association (BATA), Baltic Air Charter Association (BACA),  Board of Airline Representation
UK (BAR UK), British Business and General Aviation Association (BBGAA) and Heathrow
First.  Flying Matters included such diverse organisations as The African Organic
Farmers Association and tourism body ABTA.  Any future lobbing group is expected
to be formed around a more focused alliance.  Vital is the selection of the individual
to lead such a coalition, common consensus being that British aviation is currently
lacking such a person. www.flyingmatters.org.uk
 and a rather lovely piece by Christian Wolmar
The news that the lobbying group for aviation, Freedom to Fly* [meaning Flying Matters], is to close down at the end of the month suggests it is not only the rail industry
that has problems with projecting a unified front to the outside world. Apparently
Freedom to Fly’s demise has been caused by a dispute between EasyJet and Virgin
over the putative plane tax, but also, I suspect, reflects wider differences over
how, and indeed whether, to lobby for aviation at a time of growing concern over
climate change.
Its director was Brian Wilson, once a radical Scottish MP, but later a minister
in the Blair government who seemed to have sold his soul to the New Labour neoliberal
agenda. Interestingly, when I shared a platform with him at a conference last
year, I asked him the basic question ‘why should there be a freedom to fly?’ I
suggested that all sorts of things may seem desirable to people, but there was
no more a right to flying than, say, owning Rolex watches.
I was astonished that such an experienced politician had never really thought
of the question, let alone the answer. He blustered something about how people
had come to expect foreign holidays and therefore nothing should be done to try
to limit this ‘freedom’. It seemed a remarkably inept answer. Surely, I argued,
its about the market and about the real cost of undertaking such activity. If,
as is widely accepted, flying causes far more damage to the environment than is
reflected in the fare price, then imposing taxes which reduce that gap was a perfectly
sensible policy.
All he could do was bluster again that people had come to expect their two weeks
on the Costa del wherever. I should have responded  that the Victorian middle
classes expected to pay very little for child chimney sweeps to risk their lives
cleaning out their flues but I did not think of it at the time.
A wider question is actually where now for the aviation industry.
BAA plc announced today that there had been a small increase in passenger numbers
overall, notably at Heathrow, and higher rises at their Scottish airports, but
significantly both Stansted and Southampton were sharply down due to reduction
in low cost airline flights.
The Coalition government, though, has no plans at all to expand capacity in the
south east, and the idea that high speed rail will replace demand for flying is
fanciful. Therefore there has to be a more rational use of existing resources
to accommodate any growth. But with Gatwick already sold and BAA being forced to dispose of Stansted, their new competing owners are unlikely to co-ordinate airport use to make a more rational allocation of runway space.
Successive governments’ emphasis on competition rather than tighter regulation
and co-ordination could prove to be a disastrous error.
I have no sympathy for the environmentally-damaging airline industry which is
undertaxed and does itself no favours when the likes of Michael O’Leary revel
in making life difficult for its customers, but aviation is certainly in need
of some type of strategy to deal with the succession of blows it has suffered.
Unfortunately, it is not the railways that offer any type of example.
It’s a slip of the pen – he means Flying Matters.   The mistake is because (the
equally useless) Freedom to Fly morphed into Flying Matters and and some of the
characters were interlinked.  Joe Irving (F2F) was replaced by Dan Hodges (Glenda
Jackson’s son) who was replaced by his wife Michelle di Leo (when it became FM).
Dan is now working on the Labour Uncut blogsite (unpaid as a springboard to other
pieces of work) while Michelle spends quite a bit of time at home with her young
and a bit of fun with Plane Stupid’s take on the matter at
www.flyingmatters.org.uk  – their rather dead website.
Flying matters says:
“Vital is the selection of the individual to lead such a coalition, common consensus
being that British aviation is currently lacking such a person”.
AirportWatch members have a few suggestions:
Maybe we need a playful competition to find the right person.  Previously would
have included ‘Ideally suited for washed-up Labour MP/grandee or member of New
Labour comms team on the make’, but possibly that’s no longer relevant.  What
‘Capable of furthering the interests of a grasping industry with no sense of
‘Ability to throw toys out of pram when refused ‘what is rightfully ours’ not
necessarily required (Willie Walsh need not apply).
‘Prepared to tell very tall stories on behalf of the client e.g that the ‘right
to cheap air travel’ is in Magna Carta, and that UK PLC will collapse into the
sea ‘without massive airport expansion’.
‘No understanding of economics required (separate retainers with York Aviation
and OEF provide the usual handouts).’