A SINGLE UK hub airport with spare capacity for new routes is vital to the North-East retaining its position as a key UK exporter, it has been claimed.

The CBI says politicians must act decisively, arguing a single hub is imperative to long-term sustainable growth.

The Airports Commission previously revealed a shortlist of three options to improve capacity, including adding a third runway at Heathrow, lengthening an existing runway at the site, and adding a new runway at Gatwick.

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A report is expected next year.

However, the CBI said work must start by 2020, with clear plans for the capacity needed to connect with the rest of the world, and a timetable to consider additional capacity after 2030.

The call was backed by Ross Smith, the North East Chamber of Commerce's director of policy, who told The Northern Echo changes were needed to maintain the region’s export prowess.

He said: “As the region in the UK with the best exports, this is as critical to the North-East as anywhere.

“We need to see a strong decision as quickly as possible.”

In its report, the CBI says the UK is falling behind on direct flights to emerging markets because Heathrow’s hub capacity is full.

It also added EU rivals with unconstrained capacity are creating connections to new destinations in China and Brazil, as well as links to emerging markets like Peru, Indonesia and Chile.

Katja Hall, CBI deputy director-general, said: “The Chancellor has set businesses ambitious targets for increasing the UK’s exports, and there is simply no way of achieving these goals without upping our game in emerging markets.

“Connectivity is the lifeblood of trade, but the UK is already falling behind, so every day we delay making a decision, makes matters worse.

“First and foremost, UK business wants action.

“There can be no more excuses.

“We need to see the Airports Commission deliver a strong case for new capacity and a clear schedule for delivery, and politicians to commit to spades in the ground by the end of the next Parliament.

“With Heathrow full and the UK slipping behind in the race for new connectivity, it is essential the Airports Commission delivers a solution that addresses the ticking time bomb of our lack of spare hub capacity.”

The report also warns the Airports Commission can’t afford to ignore the UK’s wider network of airports in its recommendations, saying its report must deliver competition on routes.

Ms Hall added: “Transfer passengers are the key ingredient that helps make new routes thrive, but without spare capacity, they tend to get squeezed out.

“There is little appetite from business users to land at one airport in the South-East, collect baggage, clear customs and then travel to a dedicated long-haul airport.

“This means that if we are to spark new connections that drive trade, we need a solution that creates spare capacity at a single-site hub.”