Catherine contributed to a debate on Jet Zero Council to press the case for a wider package of support for aviation, protecting jobs and supporting regional airports like Newcastle.
A copy of the speech is available below:
I thank the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), for securing this debate and for setting out the case for Jet Zero so eloquently. I can reassure him from the outset that there is very much cross-party support for this endeavour. However, I intend to set out a little bit of gentle challenge as well, because we need to ensure that we do everything we can at this point to support aviation.
Aviation was one of the first industries to be hit by this pandemic and I believe that it will be one of the last industries to recover from it, especially as measures such as quarantine remain in place and countries retain restrictions on visitors from the UK. The crisis continues to affect our aviation industry, and there are repercussions for the wider economy, too: the mass redundancies in airlines such as British Airways and easyJet are devastating for the employees and their families. Colleagues may be aware of the negative attention that was generated recently by what I regard as the rather insensitive comments of the Work and Pensions Secretary, when she suggested that cabin crew and pilots who lose their jobs can retrain as carers and teachers.
The consequences of the approach to the aviation sector’s crisis will be felt right across the economy, because aviation is a linchpin. It supports sectors such as tourism, it attracts inward investment across the country and it connects us to the rest of the world. Newcastle airport, which lies within my constituency, is an international and domestic transport hub, a strategic asset for our region, and it is central to our economic growth. Our airport supports manufacturing businesses, exports and higher education, attracting people to our world-class universities. So the Government need to understand the special status of the aviation industry and show much greater understanding of and support for it in the years ahead.
Treasury Ministers have repeatedly referred to a support package for aviation that has been provided, but I would say that the specific package that is needed has not been provided yet. Air bridges need to be arranged as soon as possible. There should be 12 months of business rate relief, which has already been given to airports in Scotland and Northern Ireland. These forms of support need to be provided to create a level playing field, so that we will all be able to “build back better” after this crisis.
The Minister today will also be aware of the growing concern in the travel industry and among travellers about testing being in place to replace quarantine measures. The current system relies on deterring people from travelling, and it is not effective as a public health measure because it does not do enough to pick up those people who have no choice but to travel and who may have covid-19.
I appreciate that Members may ask, “What’s this got to do with Jet Zero?” However, what we do now, in getting the right atmosphere and support package in place for aviation, is absolutely crucial to building the Jet Zero vision that we need for the future. I have to say that there does not seem to be that appreciation in Government yet that we need to keep the foundations that we have in our aviation industry in order to be in a position to build that greener, more sustainable aviation industry of the future. 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 support the calls for investment in sustainable engines and fuel to make air travel cleaner and greener, to help the UK to meet its climate change targets, and to protect aviation jobs.
I strongly welcome the creation of the Jet Zero Council. It will be instrumental in connecting aerospace modernisation, sustainable fuels, technological developments, carbon offsetting and renewables in a coherent framework for delivery that Government and industry can support.
The Committee on Climate Change says that sustainable fuels are critical to cutting emissions from aviation, but at present the challenge seems to lie in international agreement on how to encourage their use. In a letter to the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the chief technology officers of Boeing, Airbus, Rolls-Royce, General Electric, Safran, Dassault Aviation and Raytheon urged greater efforts to create, “conditions under which sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) can be widely deployed”.
They warned that without broad agreement on tools and policies to encourage the use of green fuels, energy companies will not put up the trillions of dollars of capital investment required to meet the needs of the aviation industry.
I know that different approaches are already under consideration. For example, in August, the European Commission signalled it was considering an EU-wide requirement for a minimum amount of sustainable fuel on flights. However, we need to get to a place where even if different trading blocks have their own methods, we are driven by common targets so the pace of switching to sustainable fuels can be accelerated. Will the Minister respond to the concerns of the chief technology officers and work with our international partners to ensure that we do not miss out on these opportunities?
Decarbonisation of aviation will also rely heavily on market-based mechanisms in the short to medium term, so it is vital that these transitions run smoothly. Many aircraft operators that participate in the EU emissions trading scheme will also participate in the new UK emissions trading scheme. Will the Minister update us on how we will link those two schemes, as set out in the future relationship with the EU25?
I will touch on a couple of issues that relate specifically to jobs in the aviation sector. Sustainable aviation fuel is clearly required to meet our emissions targets and it will create many jobs. We need to ensure that that investment and those jobs go where they are needed most. I would argue that that is in the north-east. An airport scrappage scheme has also been promoted as reducing emissions and creating the quieter aviation that many people want to see in the future.
In addressing one of the immediate challenges we face, I return to the comments of the Work and Pensions Secretary. If we encourage everybody currently in the aviation sector to retrain as carers or teachers, we will lose the vital skills base that we need to build sustainable aviation, fuels and aircraft of the future. The current approach in the job support scheme, which provides only 67% of wages where those jobs cannot be undertaken, does not go far enough. Greater investment in retaining those skills and supporting those jobs now, as well as the jobs we will need in the future, is vital.
My final argument is that when we get things right on a cross-party basis and a governmental and business collaboration basis, a strong workers’ voice is always in there too. If we really want to make the Jet Zero Council work, we should have workers’ representation and the voice of workers, working with business and Government to maximise its potential.