The Transport Select Committee have concluded the first stage of an inquiry into the crisis faced by the aviation industry. Given the time available and the high level of uncertainty about coronavirus, the committee did not examine in great depth the longer-term implications for air travel. The committee intend to return to examine the longer-term implications for air travel once the immediate crisis has subsided.
Following the publication of the Transport Select Committee’s report, “The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the aviation sector”, Easington MP and Transport Committee Member Grahame Morris said:
“This report is a call for concerted action to save the aviation sector. The government have had four months to develop a recovery strategy for an industry that is vital to our economy but to date have been short on specifics and have been painfully slow in developing and implementing a recovery plan.
The Transport Select Committee is clear on the need for a Sector-Specific Support Plan, and have made recommendations to introduce a 12-month business rates relief for airlines and airports, and a six-month temporary suspension of Air Passenger Duty.
Although it is a personal view I would hope that within six months the government will replace Air Passenger Duty with an Airport Congestion Charge. Such a change would help regional airports like Newcastle and Teesside, making it cheaper to fly from those that are not operating at capacity.
The flexibility of an Airport Congestion Charge would also help previously busy airports that have been hit by coronavirus, to support them through their current difficulties.
Regional Airports are engines of their local economies. The speed of our recovery will depend on protecting Newcastle International Airport as the North East’s only global air route.
On job losses, and BA’s redundancy plans, Mr Morris said:
“The Select Committee is unequivocal in describing the behaviour of British Airways as a national disgrace,” and he said “the current consultation on changing the terms and conditions of employees is a calculated attempt by BA management to take advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to cut jobs reduce pay and weaken the terms and conditions of its’ workforce. The BA workforce has shown great loyalty and commitment over many years and helped make BA one of the most successful and profitable airlines in the world.”
We need a responsible partnership between the government, the aviation industry and trades unions representing the workforce. UK based aviation employers should utilise existing support such as the Covid Job Retention Scheme, and delay any decisions on redundancies or restructuring until this scheme comes to an end in October by which time we have a clearer picture of demand and the government should have set out clear sector-specific support plans.
The aviation sector was hit first, hit hardest, and will be one of the last to recover. It now falls on the government to work with all of those involved to deliver a robust recovery and restart plan. Any plan must put passengers and employees first, and not shareholder profits. The plan must minimise job losses and protect employees pay and conditions; restore passenger confidence with internationally agreed health protections and re-examine airport slot allocation to support competition and connectivity. Most importantly, for the North East, the plan must protect regional connectivity within the UK and international strategic trade links.
The government have failed the industry, and the industry has failed its employees. I hope in the weeks ahead, the government and the aviation sector agree a positive recovery plan to safeguard jobs, protect our regional airports and with appropriate measures and when it is safe to do so, restore air travel for passengers.”