Date published: 8th February 2016

Stewart Wingate is the CEO of Gatwick Airport and writes about the importance of the European single market and remaining in the EU. 

Quite soon, each of us may be asked to vote in a referendum to determine whether Britain stays a member of the EU. For me, the choice is straightforward. As Chief Executive of Gatwick, and as someone who has been involved in the aviation sector for over a decade, I have seen how the single market in Europe has brought competition to air travel, lowering prices and improving service standards to the benefit of passengers everywhere.  EU liberalisation of the internal aviation market has led to a step change in the number of routes (and the number of airports served) driven by the facilitation of new airline business models, offering passengers more competition and choice. This benefit is not just restricted to Europe - our aviation industry has benefited both from being part of a liberalised market and from the clout of Europe in negotiating increasingly liberal bilateral air services agreements with other countries and regions. That has facilitated new services around the world enabling, for example, Norwegian to serve multiple US destinations from Gatwick, and WestJet to fly here from multiple cities in Canada.  

When you compare the range of destinations, the choice and the fares that are available to us all today with what was available even ten years ago, you can see the progress that has been made: the single market has played a big part in the achievement of that.

More than 60% of the nation’s air traffic is to Europe and Gatwick is at the centre of that. At Gatwick, we fly to more European destinations than any other airport in the UK. We all know the benefits such links bring. In business, connectivity with our neighbours means more trade, greater productivity and new markets for our goods and services, so increasing our connectivity in Europe can only be a good thing. Europe is the nation’s biggest single trading market - about half of our trade is with Europe - and at Gatwick we’re proud to be at the heart of all that activity.

But, seen from the vantage point of the world’s busiest single runway, serving the greatest city in the world, our links abroad also mean much more. Connectivity brings together friends and families from all over Europe, joining those living and working in the city with their relatives and keeping friends in touch in a personal way that just can’t be done with social media. It brings a richness to our cultural life that is one of London’s most attractive characteristics, whether you care about modern or classical music, street or formal theatre or the visual arts, from photography to painting. Our connectedness to Europe, and the rest of the world, has brought energy and fertility to the capital’s artistic life that enlivens us all. And it has allowed us to host some of the most entertaining and exciting sporting events anywhere in the world, whether you prefer Wimbledon or Wembley. Without doubt, being in a connected London is great place to be.

Millions of European passengers pass through Gatwick every month, and millions of Britons leave Gatwick en route to Europe. It’s easy then to be reminded of the original reasons behind the formation of the European Union: the Common Market, of course, and all the prosperity that has brought, but also the close personal friendships, the exchange of ideas, the sense that together is better than separate. And I believe that we are at our best when we’re engaged in trying to improve things, to contribute and create, rather than when we withdraw.

I will not suggest that the EU is perfect or that if we left the EU all this would vanish overnight. However, our international life would undoubtedly be more complex, and some of that easy connectivity might vanish faster than we wish. Although we are a resilient nation, and of course we’d do what we could to do to keep in touch with our trading partners, our diplomatic counterparts, our family and our friends, we would start to miss what we may have come to take for granted. As the world gets smaller many of our more serious issues are getting bigger: isolating ourselves from our neighbours will not help us solve those issues.

I’ve seen the benefits of our international links built over decades: in twenty or thirty years time I don’t want to be the one explaining to the next generation that we chose disengagement over engagement, isolation over connection. So Gatwick supports staying in the EU and I myself will be voting to stay in.

Stewart Wingate - CEO Gatwick Airport