The new transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin, who was revealed by Total Politics to be afraid of flying, has been challenged in his first appearance in front of the transport select committee by his fellow Tory colleague Kwasi Kwarteng. Although McLoughlin has only been in the role for seven days, he was asked how surprised he was about the progress of aviation in the UK since he was last in the department of transport, in the early 1990s.
The young up-and-coming MP Kwarteng asked the veteran Conservative McLoughlin:
“How surprised are you that this very issue of south east aviation capacity has not progressed since 1990?
“And as far as I can see there has been nothing on aviation capacity in 22 years. How surprised are you?”
McLoughlin, who had served in the department of transport under both Margaret Thatcher and John Major, dismissed this and looked slightly abashed by this forthright question. He rebutted the challenge and said, “To say there’s been nothing done on capacity is wrong. The ATM [air traffic management] capacity has increased significantly, so to say nothing has improved in the last 22 years is a slight exaggeration.”
Nevertheless, Kwarteng was tenacious on this line of inquiry, and explained how, “The issue in the 1990s that was raised was about a new runway,” and he added how this has not progressed much.
McLoughlin firmly reiterated how, “this is a very complicated subject. But even if we had the third runway it would take a lot of time.” He also added that this is, “a very controversial” subject. He again pointed to the Davies Commission, in which there will be a detailed capacity review.
So, a lot is resting on this Davies Commission. This must be a respite for the current department of transport and new transport secretary, considering how all the controversies surrounding potential aviation policy have recently been a thorn in the side of the coalition. The fact that the report, chaired by Sir Howard Davies, is to give the final verdict in 2015 must give McLoughlin a sigh of relief.