The events of the last 18 months have been the greatest challenge in the almost century-long history of what is now Gatwick Airport.
The effects of the pandemic are clear for all to see, with Gatwick traffic down by 98 per cent at certain points; June 2021 saw 185,000 passengers compared to more than 3 million for that month in 2019.
The impact of this goes far beyond a transport hub at the very north of Crawley; it is about the opportunities which the airport presents to workers, passengers and the wider area economy.
My first mention of coronavirus and Gatwick Airport in a parliamentary speech was in January 2020. Since then, the question of how our community can recover from the pandemic has been one of the issues which has been front and centre of my representations to the Government.
It is more than a year since I established what is now the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Future of Aviation.
Last August the Group published its Aviation Recovery Plan, which sought to guide the revival of the industry. The introduction of a Covid-19 testing programme for international arrivals and support for airports on business rates were some of our calls which were enacted by Government.
A further issue included in the Plan which I have pursued on behalf of Crawley and Gatwick workers was the continuation of the Coronavirus Job Retention (furlough) Scheme, which has been extended until the end of September 2021.
Among actions taken to protect the business, Gatwick Airport reduced its workforce by some 40 per cent last year, with around half of the Airport’s employees currently on furlough.
I have been clear in Parliament that if aviation and travel industries have not been able to reopen in a meaningful way over the summer, furlough will need to be extended further.
Continuing to raise the issue of support for this industry in Parliament has been the subject of my meetings with the Prime Minister and Cabinet members.
Last month I secured and led a debate on support for the aviation, tourism and travel industries. The central point I made was that the best way which Government can support Crawley and Gatwick workers is to ensure a quick reopening of international travel which is safe for passengers and employees alike. Far better the sector contributes to UK economic recovery, rather than be a demand on our public finances.
This was a call I made at Prime Minister’s Questions at the end of June. With more than 75 million vaccine doses administered, including three in five adults receiving both jabs, we must use the UK’s vaccine dividend to support our airport communities recover.
While the current reduction in transatlantic travel is damaging, it is welcome that a US carrier is to start flying from New York to Gatwick every day from September.
The current ‘green list’ of destinations only represents 17 per cent of Gatwick’s destinations and passenger numbers served in 2019.
For countries with vaccination roll-out successes akin to our own and similar or lower infection rates than the UK, a more pragmatic regime for ‘amber’ and ‘green list’ countries is required.
This can not only fulfil the promise of global Britain but help secure Crawley and Gatwick’s future.
Henry Smith MP