Below is the text of the statement made by Paul Maynard, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, in the House of Commons on 14 January 2020.
I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this matter. She is a strong advocate for her local airport.
Let me stress that Flybe remains a going concern. Flights continue as scheduled, and passengers should continue to go to the airport as usual. I must also emphasise that regional air carriers and airports are vital to the Government, playing a key role in providing connectivity between communities, regions and nations across the United Kingdom.
The speculation surrounding Flybe relates to commercial matters. The Government do not comment on the financial affairs of or speculation surrounding private companies. We are working hard, but there are commercial limits on what a Government can do to rescue any firm.
Be in no doubt, however, that we understand Flybe’s important role in delivering connectivity across the entire United Kingdom. This Government are committed to ensuring that the country has the regional connectivity that it needs. That is part of our agenda of uniting and levelling up the whole country. We do not have good enough infrastructure in many areas, and people do not feel they have a chance to get to the opportunity areas with high-skilled and high-paid jobs. That is what this Government are addressing now.
I hope the House will appreciate that I regret that I am not able to go into further detail at this stage, but I will update the House further when it is appropriate to do so.
Flybe is, as the Minister said, an important regional airline, serving the UK market for business and leisure travel. I must confess from the outset that Southampton airport sits on the boundary between my constituency of Romsey and Southampton North and the Eastleigh constituency, but it employs many of my constituents and, of course, serves the much wider region. It is a crucial part of Hampshire’s connectivity, located adjacent to the mainline to London Waterloo and the M27 motorway, and it serves the cruise terminal at Southampton. It is in every sense a transport hub for the south-east, and about 90% of flights out of Southampton are run by Flybe.
I know that my hon. Friend the Minister is working hard on this issue, for which I sincerely thank him. He has been diligent in keeping me updated and has been in close contact with colleagues across the country who believe that the Government need to find a practical and pragmatic solution to the current reported difficulties, as indeed I do. It is a sensitive time for the company, but my questions today are not criticisms. We are seeking reassurance from the Government that solutions can be found.
I welcomed the comments from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister this morning about regional connectivity. He specifically referenced Northern Ireland, and Southampton airport has a thriving route in and out of Belfast, not to mention Glasgow and Edinburgh, with onward routes to Aberdeen. It is a hub that serves the whole United Kingdom.
I do not wish to put the Minister in a corner, but I hope that he may be able to expand a little on what might be achieved with regard to air passenger duty, which has long been a concern to airlines and airport operators. We leave the European Union at the end of this month, which might give us some opportunity to consider the freedoms that there could be from state aid rules. I do not expect the Minister to make any sweeping announcements from the Dispatch Box, but I hope he and his officials are closely considering it.
What powers does the Minister have to protect the key strategic routes operated by Flybe and, of course, to protect its staff? Flybe employs 200 people at Southampton, and the airport employs some 900 people. A far wider supply chain relies on a thriving regional airport with a functioning operator.
We have an opportunity to use every lever of government to make sure that regional connectivity is maintained to ensure that businesses can operate smoothly and that people can move around the country seamlessly. I seek reassurance from my hon. Friend that he is pulling all those levers.
I thank my right hon. Friend once again for working hard on behalf of Southampton airport. I am acutely conscious of the fact that some 94% of Southampton’s passengers are Flybe passengers, and she makes an important series of points about the airport’s importance to her region. Indeed, I gather the airport is also important to inbound tourism.
My right hon. Friend tries to tempt me on to the topic of APD. It may help the House if I make it clear that Transport Ministers never comment on air passenger duty, which is a matter for the Treasury, and I do not intend to change that now. I will not be making any comments on air passenger duty.