Leading article: Flight of reason

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The Independent Online

The new airline landing charges for Heathrow and Gatwick, which will add £2 to the typical ticket price, might sound like good news from an environmental perspective, but the underlying message is actually far more worrying. What this symbolises is the Government's spinelessness in the face of the aviation industry.

By allowing BAA to raise landing fees, the Civil Aviation Authority (most likely under gentle pressure from the Government) is bailing out BAA's Spanish parent company, Ferrovial. It is being claimed that the higher landing charges are necessary to give BAA the revenue to modernise its airports, improve passenger services and improve security.

In reality, what lies behind the higher charges are the Spanish conglomerate's colossal debt payments and its failing business model. These higher landing charges are to patch up the company's financial difficulties, which have grown acute since the global credit crunch began. The question is why the Government is going along with this.

Ever since the Eddington Report two years ago, commissioned by Gordon Brown, the Government has been sold on the idea that it is in our national interest for aviation to expand. Ministers are giving a fair wind to Heathrow's plans for a third runway.

And now BAA is being indulged over landing charges. The airlines are complaining about the charges, but it will not stop them competing for lucrative landing slots at Heathrow. If higher landing charges reduce demand for flights that should be welcomed, but it does not alter the fact that we are faced with a government that seems unable to say no to aviation.