The move was welcomed by regional airports and by British Airways. Geoff Muirhead, chief executive of Manchester Airport, said: 'We hope this is the first step to completely open skies between the UK and the rest of the world.' However, US carriers want to be allowed to increase flights into Heathrow and have shown little interest in increasing flights to regional airports. Joe Hopkins, spokesman for United Airlines, said: 'While we appreciate the move, the big issue for us is Heathrow and, in particular, flights between Chicago and Heathrow, which we are not allowed to operate at present.'
Flights between the US and regional airports were previously restricted by bilateral agreements which are currently up for renegotiation. However, talks between the US and the UK on liberalising the market for transatlantic flights have been deadlocked for several months because of the Heathrow issue, and Mr Mawhinney clearly hopes that his unconditional offer to increase flights to regional airports will help smooth the way for a resumption of talks.
Dr Mawhinney also announced a crackdown on cars which prove to be heavy polluters. Spot checks on emissions would be stepped up in city centres and higher standards would be imposed for emissions. Diesel emission limits are being tightened by around 10 per cent from the end of next year while new limits for cars fitted with catalysts are to be introduced at the same time, a year ahead of the European target dates.
The motoring organisations welcomed the move. Edmund King, campaigns manager of the RAC, said: 'About half the pollution comes from 10 per cent of vehicles. Anything which targets them is a good thing.'
However, environmental campaigners, while welcoming the stricter emission limits, thought Dr Mawhinney's move did not go far enough. Roger Higman of Friends of the Earth said: 'This is a feeble package. He is refusing to implement measures to cut back on traffic during smogs like those last summer. There are no new pledges and this will bring little relief from traffic fumes for Britain's asthmatic children.' He wants to see grants to help bus operators replace their old fleets.
Dr Mawhinney also reaffirmed the Government's commitment to motorway tolls, and confirmed that photographs would appear on new driving licences issued from July 1996.
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