Heathrow decision: For aviation communicators, the hard work is just beginning

It has become a truism that Heathrow expansion is a totemic issue around which campaigners on both sides of the argument have prosecuted their battle for public and political opinion over at least the last 20 years.

The government bit the bullet with the Heathrow vote but the hard work for aviation communicators is just beginning, argues Michelle Di Leo
The government bit the bullet with the Heathrow vote but the hard work for aviation communicators is just beginning, argues Michelle Di Leo

Over that time, the future of airport infrastructure in the UK has hung in the balance more times than a see saw. In that time so much has stayed the same and yet so much has changed.

Opponents remain entrenched in the same positions they have always adopted, despite substantial investment by the aviation industry in sustainability and step changes in their commitment to improved environmental performance.

The aviation industry has continued, resolutely, to explain the fundamental economic and social benefits of air transport to the UK and continued to educate stakeholders in its efforts to reduce and mitigate its environmental impact.

While politicians in the UK have prevaricated, China, Europe and the Middle East have grown their airport capacity at breakneck speed and driven their economies at the same time.

It used to be the case that those involved in the campaigns for sustainable aviation felt that only governments with substantial political capital could afford to take the politically difficult decision to give the go ahead to expansion.

Theresa May’s government, despite having very little in the bank of political capital, pushed ahead with last night’s vote. Why?

Britain’s ability to trade and grow in a post-Brexit world is now of such critical economic and political importance, that it has catalysed action on one of the most glaringly obvious impediments to growth: constrained airport capacity.

Moreover, it has made alliances of those who on every other issue, are foes.

I doubt there will ever be another vote which sees Len McClusky and Chris Grayling on the same side.

Theresa May’s government deserves real credit for pushing forward and getting this major infrastructure project (and the 1000s of construction jobs it will generate) off the ground, in spite of the challenges of the Parliamentary arithmetic and the seemingly permanent Boris-shaped distractions.

However, celebrations would be premature.

There are some thorny issues which need to be resolved so that what is eventually built meets the needs of passengers, businesses, airlines and the UK in a way that is affordable, sensible and sustainable.

The role of the CAA will be critical in making sure these needs are satisfied – and satisfied quickly enough to move forward without further delay.

For aviation communicators – both media and public affairs specialists – last night’s success marks a major moment in their campaigns.

Communicating with stakeholders and the wider public will now be even more important.

The legal challenge being launched by councils and the London Mayor will keep the issues in the media spotlight.

It will be essential to continue to make the intertwined case for the sustainable growth of aviation and infrastructure which is affordable.

Some 15 years after a Labour government gave the go ahead to new runways in the 2003 White Paper, the hard work for communicators is just beginning.

Michelle Di Leo is managing director corporate affairs at Newington Communications

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