This is a sponsored post by Nick Barton, CEO of London Luton Airport.

The importance of the UK’s airports cannot be overstated. They provide travel opportunities for holiday-makers, trade routes for businesses, and are vital contributors to the UK’s economy – air transport and aerospace industries add £22bn each year. It is no wonder that ministers have identified aviation as a “top priority” in Brexit negotiations.

Demand for air travel is at record levels – official Department for Transport (DfT) figures predict that demand will more than double to 445 million passengers per year by 2050. At London Luton Airport (LLA) we have seen over 40 months of consecutive growth.

But the UK is fast running out of capacity to meet this demand.

A third runway for Heathrow remains an uncertain prospect. While we await the final verdict, regional airports such as LLA have an increasingly vital role to play in meeting this growing capacity demand and capitalising on its economic potential. It’s why we at LLA are currently undertaking the single biggest investment in our history to increase our annual capacity by 50 per cent by 2020. It won’t just deliver growth for the airport. Independent economic analysis shows that LLA’s growth expansion alone will increase our economic contribution by £1 billion per year and create an extra 10,500 jobs.

But for the UK to fully realise the economic potential of the aerospace industry, airports must be supported by better transport links. This has been made clear by the Transport Select Committee, which has identified inadequate surface access through rail links as a significant limiting factor for airports’ abilities to reach their full potential.

We welcome the DfT’s Aviation Strategy review of current airport transport links and future infrastructure requirements for airport growth.

But we have a more immediate opportunity to significantly improve surface access. The current DfT consultation on the new East Midlands Rail franchise offers a once-in-a-decade chance to improve the rail links to LLA; enhance the journeys of the thousands of passengers who travel on the line each day, and to drive significant economic growth in the local region and across the UK.

Currently, 160 EMT rail services pass through Luton Airport Parkway station each day. But only one train per hour actually stops. It means LLA, London’s fastest-growing airport, is the only one without an express-style train.  This must change if we are to help address the UK’s capacity challenges.

We are calling for the new franchise agreement to include a requirement for four fast trains per hour from central London.  This can be achieved with minimal input, through timetable change alone and no capital expenditure from government. Yet the benefits to passengers, the communities up and down the line, and the UK’s economy will be significant.

Improved rail links will help to keep over 70,000 cars off the M1 each year, reducing congestion and cutting CO2 emissions. Even more important, it will generate an additional £110 million in revenue for the DfT over the lifetime of the franchise and accelerate the predicted economic contribution of the airport, all at no additional cost to the public purse.

The benefits are clear to see and the FSB, CBI, and easyJet have all expressed their support for the four fast trains route.

This consultation represents a significant opportunity to improve rail links to deliver the capacity which we need to ensure that the UK’s aviation infrastructure remains world-class. Let’s not allow it to pass us by.

To find out more and to support our call for more fast trains to LLA, click here.