Lord Digby Jones tells Airports Commission – “don’t just stand there. Do something!”

Lord DIgby Jones has been a vociferous supporter of a 3rd Heathrow runway for many years, as well as backer of the aviation industry. He has now written, with two other former high ranking figures in business, to the Airports Commission asking them to “be bold” and get a move on with making a decision on building a new runway. Sir Digby was briefly the chair of the aviation industry lobby body, “Flying Matters” before stepping down to become trade and industry minister in Gordon Brown’s ailing government.  Lord Digby believes the government should first lift the flight number cap at Heathrow to allow concurrent take-off and landing from both runways, and there should be other changes to allow Gatwick and Stansted to compete more effectively.  He believes the UK is falling behind competitors, and the building of a runway would solve all the UK economy’s problems – and prevent the UK losing out to rivals.  He says: Politicians, please don’t just stand there. Do something! You are crippling our economy by doing nothing. Back in 2007, speaking of people troubled by noise from East Midlands airport, he said: ..”rural residents should sacrifice their well-being in exchange for economic progress …”  



Lord Digby Jones: “We can’t wait until 2015 while politicians dither over the UK airport crisis”

  by Digby Jones
September 23, 2013,(City AM)

[Lord DIgby Jones (Baron  Jones of Birmingham) has been a vociferous supporter of a 3rd Heathrow runway for many years, as well as backer of the aviation industry].
Lord Digby says:
I LEARNED long ago not to listen to what politicians say, but to watch what they do. All parties pay lip-service to doing what it takes to be globally competitive, to create jobs and wealth in a fast-changing, ever more challenging world. But simply by doing nothing, those we elect to govern us are in the process of destroying one of the few globally competitive positions we hold – our status as a great trading nation.
The acute lack of airport capacity in the South East is damaging our reputation as the place from which to conduct international business, and as the location of choice for inward investment. Politicians have placed responsibility for studying the options for expansion on Sir Howard Davies and the airports commission. But he is not due to report until 2015. As we wait, we are handing thousands of wealth-creating opportunities to Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam on a plate.

To delay until after the 2015 election for a decision on what to do about airports (let alone to start to actually sort out the problem) is political cowardice.

And this is not rocket science. There are solutions we can take before 2015. The government could begin the process of lifting the flight cap at Heathrow to allow concurrent take-off and landing from both runways. Gatwick and Stansted could be freed from out-of-date price control regulation to allow them to compete effectively for airlines and passengers. There could be quick investment in better rail links to these airports. Give an independent noise regulator real powers to deal with justifiable concerns. But why can’t this be introduced now?

Urgent action is needed. But we also need the solutions to be robust. This is why I have written to the airports commission, together with Lord Davies [a different Davies, not Sir Howard, this is Lord Davies of Abersoch, who was a Labour Minister from 2009 – 10  link ], another previous minister of state for trade and investment, and Andrew Cahn  link, former chief executive of UK Trade and Investment. We are urging Sir Howard to be bold.

Last year, 147m passengers used airports in the South East; Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport has six runways compared to Heathrow’s two; Frankfurt airport is set to increase hourly capacity by 50 per cent; surveys show there is the demand for 45 new destinations to be added to the route network from Heathrow; more flights leave Frankfurt for cities in China in a week than leave Heathrow for the whole world in a weekend.  [Where are the facts to back up these claims?]

[Lord Digby may not be aware of the problem of flights to China from the UK not being very profitable, as there does not appear to be enough demand. See below ]

Every day, investment is diverting away from these shores to other European destinations because investors from Asia and Latin America can get there more easily. Politicians shelter behind the myth that video conferencing is a solution. Such facilities are a necessary and a useful component in a business’s toolbox, but they need to “be there” at some point, and shaking hands will never be replaced.

The lack of daily direct services to 10 emerging economies served by Paris, Amsterdam or Frankfurt represents £1.2bn in lost trade each year to the UK. Imagine the loss of tax revenue that goes with it. Politicians, please don’t just stand there. Do something! You are crippling our economy by doing nothing.


Lord Jones is a former director general of the Confederation of British Industry, and former minister of state for trade and investment.



More on Lord Digby Jones:

Sir Digby voted strongly against Climate Change legislation in 2008.
Critics “say he drags his feet on climate change”

This is a letter

written to the Evening Standard, in which Lord Digby Jones warned of the dangers of ignoring the issues currently facing Heathrow airport.

16.5.2012   (from  Lord Digby’s personal website)

Dear Sir,

Your Leader yesterday plugged into probably the biggest long-term problem affecting London (and indeed the UK as a whole). To compete effectively in Asia’s Century, to create employment and create wealth to generate taxation to pay for schools and hospitals, we need to have an efficient, productive, welcoming gateway that is large enough to accommodate the people-flows that come with an expanding, leading World City. Currently that is not the case.

Heathrow MUST expand.

60% of traffic on a long-haul route does not originate at the departure airport. There are direct flights to twelve cities in China from Frankfurt; (there are three from Heathrow!). But two thirds of the people who fill those planes didn’t start their journey there. Frankfurt is the Hub. Heathrow can’t be an efficient hub because it has, frankly, run out of everything: runways, room, car parks, staff. The dangers to UK job and tax generation are frightening.

Boris Island? Fine, but Heathrow would have to close. A quarter of a million job losses in West London! What would anti-third runway MPs say about that?

Utilise the excess capacity at Birmingham by building a high-speed link? Fine for point-to-point but no use as a hub operation. Remember that 60% figure.

So it’s back to a third runway. Or (forgive the pun) terminal decline of our globalised business base is inevitable. For that to happen to the World’s Great City would be a tragedy; for that to happen because of a spectacular own goal would be unforgivable.

It was Wellington at Waterloo who said: “Never interrupt your enemy when he’s making a mistake”. Well, all Charles de Gaulle, Schiphol and Frankfurt have to do is sit back and wait!

Yours truly,

Lord Digby Jones


Sir Digby Jones was briefly Chairman of the aviation industry lobby group, Flying Matters, in June/July 2007.


“Sir Digby Jones has stood down as chairman of aviation lobby group Flying Matters, just days after the organisation’s launch, following his appointment to the Government as trade and industry minister.

Flying Matters was set up last month to mount a media campaign to counter the view that growth in aviation should be limited

Sir Digby Jones didn’t take the fact very well that ordinary citizens of the East Midlands commented on excessive aircraft noise either. He said, in 2005, that  rural residents should sacrifice their well-being in exchange for economic progress …”  (see below)

CBI Chief criticises Nottingham East Midlands Airport noise protesters


Britain’s leading business and industry spokesman has said residents in rural Derbyshire should stop complaining about noise created by night flights at Nottingham East Midlands Airport. Sir Digby Jones, director general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), labelled protesters as ‘landed gentry’ and said them being woken up was a price worth paying to ensure economic success for the area.

The comments follow complaints from people living under the airport’s flight paths. They want Nottingham East Midlands ‘designated’, which would mean a cap being put on night flights.

But Sir Digby said: ‘I am very keen that East Midlands becomes the known hub for freight in Europe. What really worries me is that I am reading in so many places that landed gentry are saying these flights should be rerouted over our towns and do not want them over the countryside.’

He said rural residents should sacrifice their well-being in exchange for economic progress. But Mark Todd, MP for South Derbyshire, said: ‘I would invite Digby Jones to visit the area before giving his opinions on it. I can assure him that the area is not full of landed gentry as he patronisingly describes them. People have every right to make objections about disturbances to their lives.’





Air China suspends Gatwick-Beijing service for the winter – not enough demand

Date added: September 6, 2013

Much of the clamour by the aviation industry is for more airport capacity for more flights to the Far East and the emerging economies. The claims are that the UK will be left behind economically if there aren’t frequent direct routes to numerous Chinese etc cities. However, it now emerges that Air China is to suspend its Beijing service from Gatwick from 27th October for the winter as there is not enough take up. It will probably resume in April 2014. The route was only started in 2012. Over the summer, the airline increased the size of aircraft used on its other UK route (Heathrow – daily), which has caused it to temporarily withdraw services from Gatwick for one season. The move appears to demonstrate that – despite strong load factors – the service is not viable year-round from 2 UK airports. Gatwick has suffered the loss of several long-haul routes – Korean Airlines suspended its Gatwick-Seoul route late last year and Hong Kong Airlines all-business class service was cancelled after only a few months of operation.

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