In May 2020 I launched the Future of Aviation Group to campaign for Britain’s aviation sector following the COVID-19 pandemic’s negative impact.
With Gatwick Airport in my constituency this has been a cause of importance throughout my time as Crawley MP, and before when I served as Leader of West Sussex County Council. The Future of Aviation Group seeks to highlight the importance of a vibrant aviation sector to consumers, businesses and the overall UK economy. The Group is urging Government to introduce measures in support of this vital sector’s recovery to assist global Britain – essentially to support the international trade we rely on.
COVID-19 has affected the aviation industry more than most other sectors – it was one of the first to be affected and will be one of the slowest to recover. Not only is it is a significant employer of my constituents but with British aviation being world leading, our country as a whole.
I have made this call in the House of Commons, in cross-party approaches to secretaries of state, as well as in the local and national media.
On issues such as passenger testing it is clear that Government has more work to do. This would help provide confidence for businesses and customers alike – in terms of feeling safe to travel but also allaying public health concerns. The current situation will not only limit leisure travel, but will hurt UK business putting us at a competitive disadvantage to those nations that do test, like Germany and France.
What would also support workers further is sector-specific extension of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme until March 2021. Aviation will essentially experience three winter seasons because of coronavirus and we need further safeguards in place to protect the positions of hard-working employees at Gatwick and elsewhere.
Over the summer of 2020, the Group launched its Aviation Recovery Plan, making 10 key calls to the Government:
1: Introduce COVID-19 testing
2: Maintain regional travel corridors
3: An employment support package to March 2021
4: Support the green recovery
5: Take action on business rates
6: Temporary suspension of Air Passenger Duty
7: Support for UK travel inbound tourism
8: Absorption of CAA/NATS charges for 2020-21
9: Airspace modernisation
10: Bring forward public procurement and accelerate public investment
I have been clear that aviation’s recovery is not only about flights and trade, it is about what the sector means to hard-working families and whose employees have in many cases given significant periods of their lives to the industry.
Around 44,000 airline employees have been furloughed, and the Government deserves credit for acting swiftly to step in to keep workers on the payroll. However, with passenger demand not expected to return for many months, going into years, the aviation sector would benefit from further support for its employees. Strict eligibility criteria would of course be required, potentially including businesses becoming ineligible upon reaching an agreed point of recovery.
Air Passenger Duty (APD) is included in our plan and I continue to call for the suspension of this tax on flying until the end of the 2021 summer season at least, a point I have made directly to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in Parliament.
In September 2020 I took part in the House of Commons debate on the aviation sector’s future. Obviously a subject of great importance not only to our national COVID-19 impacted economic recovery but for Crawley’s wellbeing too.
Through the adoption of these and other policy recommendations we are making, Government can be sure to reduce the scale of disruption of COVID-19 on this important industry for Gatwick and UK-wide.