Lunch with... Darren Caplan

Written by Francis Ingham on 7 March 2016 in Features

PRCA director general Francis Ingham sits down with Airport Operators Association chief executive Darren Caplan at Shepherd's restaurant.

Darren Caplan loves planes. By which I don’t mean that he likes them. He *loves* them. Rather handy, given he’s chief executive of the Airport Operators Association…

So he’s quite busy right now. I ask him what’s on his plate at the moment (not food –we haven’t ordered yet).

"The aviation scene is buzzing with issues.  Obviously, there’s a lot in the media about capacity in the UK.  The AOA’s view is clear - we need more capacity, both point-to-point and hub."

At which point, he’s lost me already. I’ve heard the terms, and I use the airports, but I’ve never really understood. So he explains that point-to-point means you go there and come back; and hub means you go there and then go somewhere else. Simples!

"The Airport Commission has said that we need more hub capacity.  Our contention is we also need to do more on point-to-point. Air customer numbers are growing so quickly that all the airports in London and the Southeast will be full up by 2030, and from 2040 airports outside of the Southeast will start filling up as well.  So while a lot of attention is on the Heathrow-Gatwick debate, we need to expand airports outside of London too."

Once you’re into the detail, Caplan's pride in his organisation and its members becomes clear. Aviation taxes? 

"The good news is that taxes are going down, including the abolition of those on children."

Down to you I ask? And he’s modest: "It’s down to the aviation industry lobbying, and yes, AOA has been a key player. We’ve won £1.5 billion worth of tax reductions over the course of five years.

"The lobbying work’s been quite tough.  We’ve been lobbying since about 2011 -airports, airlines, tourism groups, business groups, travel groups, all working together to impress upon the Chancellor that not only does it affect leisure travel, and holiday makers; it affects our business connectivity.  The fact that we have, as an industry, got a win over the last year is fantastic news."

Which all seems to me to add up to quite a record of achievement. And it prompts the obvious and loaded question - how long have you been at the AOA? 

"I’ve been at the AOA for five years. It’s my first association role, and I feel a true passion for the sector. Since 2010, the debate has shifted to where should aviation grow, not should it grow.  And that is a big shift." 

So what are his career plans? "I really enjoy working in the sector.  My plans are to make the AOA not just a good lobbying organisation, but the very best trade association that it can be.  So we have an initiative called members first, and it’s about how we can go the extra mile as a trade association to make existing members even happier; to try and attract new members to the AOA."

We turn to the broader political scene -how does it affect Caplan’s membership and industry?   

"Having the same chancellor and ministers in post has been helpful to aviation, because there had been a high turnover in transport aviation Ministers over the years.  So to have the same people you’re dealing with over more than three years is helpful.  But we work across the parties.  So we engage with the new Labour team, and we went to the Liberal Democrat conference."

I express surprise at that – Lib Dem conference this year was reportedly as popular as an illegal Mexican immigrant party outside of Donald Trump’s Palm Beach home…

"The Lib Dems are still important in terms of opinion around the country.  They’re still important in the Lords. And I’ve always said it’s important to engage with all the parties because the political scene changes over time. 

"During the noughties, a lot of people ignored the Lib Dems. And when the Coalition Government came into being in 2010, those who had maintained contact had an immediate advantage.

"The other new development is the SNP.  In some areas, the UK Government will follow Scottish Government decisions. So for example, in Scotland Air Passenger Duty has been devolved, and the SNP have said that they’ll cut it in 2018.  If that happens, then the UK Treasury will have to look, at it and may well follow suit."

Finally, to Labour. Where now? "It’s a fascinating time.  Jeremy Corbyn’s objective, presumably, is to make the Labour Party as red as it can possibly be. Labour MPs have got to either stand up to him at some point, or they’ve got to go along with him. Traditionally, they’re not very good at ousting their Leaders, so you have to say that Corbyn’s got quite a good chance of lasting until the next election."

Caplan is eyeing his menu as eagerly as a Border Contol henchman eyeing up a flight newly arrived from Bangkok. So we hasten the pace. Does he want to be an MP? "I’ve got enough on my plate, but I still think being an MP is one of the noblest professions."

A sentiment with which I agree fully. One final thing –something that PAN readers might not know about him? "I’ve been a Crystal Palace season ticket holder for 35 years. "And when I grow up, I want to be an airline pilot."

Time has flown by. And it’s time to order.
We ate

Pumpkin soup and shepherds pie
Steamed mussels and steak and kidney pudding
We drank




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