Page last updated at 10:21 GMT, Monday, 9 March 2009

Airports 'to focus on passengers'

Stansted airport
Economic regulation of airports has barely changed in 20 years

Airports will have to focus more on consumers and the environmental impact of their operations, under proposed reforms to their regulatory system.

Secretary of State for Transport Geoff Hoon has suggested giving the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) a primary duty towards passengers.

Passenger Focus will be the advocate for air passengers' interests - it currently does so for bus and rail.

The 13 biggest airports will report annually on their environmental impact.

Only those 13, which are the ones with more than 5 million passengers per year, will have to have licenses in the future, leaving the 42 smaller airports free of economic regulation.

'Lack of clarity'

"The CAA has told us that their current duties lack clarity," Mr Hoon said.

"[The duties] ask them to further the interests of both airlines and passengers, without saying who comes first. Today I am removing that lack of clarity - the passenger must come first."

The CAA said the clarification comes at an important time.

"It is important to maximise the benefits for passengers from the upcoming sale of Gatwick, and possibly Stansted, by supporting the increase in competition for passengers and airlines with a flexible and clear regulatory framework," said Harry Bush at the CAA.

The plans also involve giving statutory backing for representation of passengers for the first time.

The Air Transport Users' Council currently fills that role but the proposals suggest the responsibility would be switched to Passenger Focus.

The announcement from the Department for Transport (DfT) marks the start of a consultation process.

"We are pleased that the DfT has indicated that investors are important stakeholders in the consultation and will be invited to engage in the process," said airport operator BAA in a statement.

"We expect to set out our views in due course."

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