Future of Aviation

Catherine hoped to speak in a Westminster Hall debate on the future of the aviation industry this week but due to COVID-19 restrictions wasn’t able to be accommodated on the list of speakers.

The aviation industry has been hard hit by the pandemic and is unlikely to recover for some time.

Newcastle airport supports thousands of jobs and is crucial to the North East economy.

Catherine continues to press the Government to produce a recovery strategy and a testing regime to support aviation and protect skilled jobs.

Here is the text of the speech she intended to give in the debate:

 

I thank the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) for securing this debate.

There is clear cross-party support on this issue but I regret that it hasn’t yet translated into any urgency within government.

An aviation recovery plan had been promised for early this month but we seem to be no further forward.

It is a frustration across the aviation sector and its supply chains, among the thousands of workers it employs, and in the communities served by regional airports, that support has not been more forthcoming.

Aviation has been one of the hardest hit industries by this pandemic and its recovery is set to be one of the most protracted.

As a linchpin for so many other sectors, from exports to education, the repercussions are being felt far and wide.

Newcastle Airport in my constituency is an international and domestic transport hub, a strategic asset for our region, and it is central to economic growth in the North East.

The pandemic has severely suppressed passenger numbers at the Airport to during 5% of usual numbers during this second lockdown.

EasyJet have closed their Newcastle base and other airlines are scaling back the frequency of flights at least until Spring 2021.

An otherwise successful business and a key local employer has seen revenue plummet, forcing redundancies.

The longer these difficulties continue, the greater the danger that the sector’s ability to bounce back will be impaired.

That is a danger our region cannot afford to face.

There are two key areas where we need to see urgent action.

The first is on testing.

The news from the Global Travel Taskforce on an aviation testing regime is very welcome and Newcastle Airport have contributed to those efforts.

But the timing of this is key.

The taskforce was due to report to the Prime Minister in ‘early November’ however I understand that he has still not received the recommendations of the Taskforce.

As we have seen with the wider test and trace system, this is likely to take some time to fully establish the sooner the work starts the better.

Having a testing regime in place by the beginning of December would be significant boost to consumer confidence in booking international travel for 2021.

There will also need to be some national coordination to agree an international system which recognises travel to countries which are managing Covid well or where an individual has had a vaccine.

Progress to deploy a testing regime which can reduce and ultimately eliminate the need for quarantine must continue at pace so the sector can begin to benefit from it as soon as possible.

The second is to deliver on the recovery plan they have promised.

Already we have seen a huge number of redundancies, including at British Airways and easyJet which have been devastating for the employees and their families.

We cannot afford to see this compounded further and the longer we have to wait for a recovery plan, the greater the damage being done.

It’s simply bad economics to allow a key industry like aviation to struggle through this crisis and simply wait to pick up the pieces of what is left.

The scale of redundancies would be devastating for many local communities like my own too.

An aviation recovery plan must be published with urgency.

It should include 12 months business rate relief, like that offered to retail, in recognition that these have not been profitable businesses because of the circumstances of the pandemic. Scotland and Northern Ireland have provided this and I can see no logical reason why the same has not been offered in England.

A sector specific continuation of the Job Retention Scheme would also help protect jobs while demand for air travel recovers.

I’ve been contacted by cabin crew staff on part-year permanent contracts who were furloughed over the summer but have now find they are not covered by the JRS during the winter and I would ask the Minister to investigate this urgently.

The sector is also seeking measures such as a suspension of Air Passenger Duty to help support demand for flights, the absorption of navigation charges, and support for promoting inbound tourism.

As well as being an economic necessity, this is an environmental issue too.

UK aviation and aerospace are committed to achieving net-zero UK aviation emissions by 2050.

The Government has made clear its Jet Zero ambitions which are welcome

But this agenda is going to require investment from the sector including airports and airlines to manufacturers

Right now they’re fighting to stay afloat and the crisis has wiped out any capacity to invest in this area.

On the manufacturing side we are also seeing scaled back production and thousands of job now at risk in aerospace.

The aerospace sector has contracted by 32% since February and 32,000 jobs are currently at risk.

The loss of these jobs could lead to a more permanent loss of skills for the UK aerospace sector and therefore the capacity to meet the challenge of hitting net zero.

We need to create an investment environment so that people will invest in the future of aviation.

It will take significant investment to create that green, sustainable future, but investors will not want to put that money into a distressed sector that has not been supported through this pandemic.

As co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on sustainable aviation, I am an advocate for investment to create more sustainable engines and fuel for cleaner and greener travel.

Alongside the development of hybrid, electric and hydrogen-powered aircraft, in the nearer term sustainable aviation fuels can reduce CO2 emissions by up to 80% in comparison to fossil-based fuels.

Even with a testing regime and the emerging vaccines, it is still going to be a very difficult winter and we are likely to see a very long recovery.

Aviation needs a kickstart so it can get back on that path to recovery as soon as possible, protecting jobs and the regional economies this industry supports.

I do worry, given the Government’s reluctance to intervene so far, that they do not seem aware that Britain’s global connectivity and economic competitiveness are at serious risk if air travel does not begin to recover.

It will have serious long-term economic consequences nationally and for our regional economies which will make it impossible for the Government’s ambitions to ‘level up’ to economy and deliver ‘Global Britain’ to be realised.

I hope to hear some reassurance today that this is being taken seriously.