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Vital that the government acts now to provide the bespoke support aviation needs

8 March 2021

Prospect union has backed a joint statement from the TUC, aviation trade unions, and aviation businesses calling for a bespoke package of support to help the sector bounce back after it was largely ignored in last week’s Budget.

The union represents air traffic controllers, engineers,  and other specialist aviation staff.

Prospect deputy general secretary Garry Graham said:

“Today, unions and employer organisations set out a range of key actions required by the government to support the aviation industry and the UK’s critical aviation infrastructure. The aviation sector has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic and the decisions the government has taken to protect public health.

“It is clear in terms of regional connectivity and international travel and trade- that the aviation sector will be pivotal to economic growth as we come out of the pandemic. Government support is vital to protect jobs and ensure that that the industry has the capacity and capability to rebuild- and rebuild with a focus on environmental sustainability.

“Pre pandemic the aviation sector was a national and international success story. It is key to our global reach and economic prosperity. It is vital that the government acts now to provide the bespoke support needed.”

Full statement from the TUC, Heathrow, Swissport and aviation unions (Prospect Unite, Unison, GMB, PCS and Balpa):

State of the sector

The aviation industry was one of the first sectors affected by the COVID pandemic and the impact has been devastating. Demand in the sector fell to 2% of usual levels in the space of just a few months. In January 2021, European flight control agency Eurocontrol predicted that European flight numbers won’t return to 2019 levels until 2026.

Businesses in the sector remain vulnerable. In June, the New Economics Foundation projected that up to 124,000 jobs were at risk across aviation and the industries it supports.  In a sector that provides high quality employment opportunities, including tens of thousands of skilled apprentice places, we have already 1100 jobs lost at Norwegian Airlines, 300 pilots made compulsorily redundant at Virgin Atlantic and 250 pilots at BA, along with losses at NATS (National Air Traffic Services); 40% cuts to staff at Gatwick Airport and further losses at London City and Liverpool John Lennon, to pick a few examples.

The aviation sector is a critical feature of the UK’s infrastructure, for people, for communities, for services and freight, as well as the wider economy. It will play an essential part of the UK’s post-COVID recovery, both in terms of international trade and vital employment opportunities in all regions of the UK.

It was right that the government took steps to minimise unnecessary travel in order to contain the virus. The downturn in the industry is not a ‘natural’ phenomenon, but as a direct result of the virus and government policy to deal with it. It is therefore both imperative and rational that the government step in now to support the industry strongly so that we are in a position to rebuild and maximise the economic opportunity in the recovery period.

In the face of this crisis the industry urgently needs a unified voice and a clear channel to government. The Environmental Social and Governance group used to perform this role, but since it was reconstituted on a smaller scale and despite assurances from the DfT, bilateral communication has not made up for the loss.

Before the Travel task force reports on April 12, we call for a new process of engagement with both unions and industry figures and the creation of a new tri-partite body to facilitate this.

A joint call from the aviation sector

We have seen a clear call from across the industry and the union movement for a plan for how the aviation industry can safely return to normal. Unions and industry bodies have also called for some targeted, sector-specific support which recognises the seasonal and interconnected nature of the aviation sector, as well as the high fixed costs for instance by airports and air traffic control. Union colleagues have also highlighted the specialist and extensive training required and how long it would take to build this back if staffing levels are allowed to atrophy during the pandemic.  

We have divided the actions between those that fall within the remit of the DfT, the DHSC and those that are the responsibility of the Treasury. However all of them will rely on cooperation across government, industry and trade unions.

HM Treasury
  • Targeted support to retain capacity and capability to rebuild and recover, with full business rates relief – including the full furlough scheme remaining in place where public health restrictions are in in force and while demand and public confidence remains subdued in order to retain staff for recovery.
  • Government to cover airport operational cost during closure of international and domestic passenger movements.
  • Government loans to industry through equity or debt participation which would be available to eligible aviation businesses utilizing loans or a loan guarantee programme.
  • Extending the period of repayment of loans to aviation companies beyond the current two year maximum.
  • Government to meet air navigation charges.
  • 12-month holiday for airport passenger duty, remove double APD charging for domestic passengers, reduction in Air Passenger Duty for flights using sustainable fuels.
  • Fund research for trialing and implementation of current and future seamless journey technology protecting safety and rebuilding confidence.
  • Funding support for roll out of next generation security tech.
  • Fund airport sustainable modernisation strategy.
Department for Health and Social Care
  • A testing framework that sets out the circumstances under which quarantine could be lifted using a risk-based approach to reopen travel safely.
  • Support for airports to coordinate with aviation sector employers and unions in establishing a safe and healthy airport – a requirement for planning future operations, and pre and post travel testing available at all airports.
Department for Transport

A recovery plan for the aviation industry including:

  • To support airlines and air navigation service providers to preserve specific domestic and international routes, and ensure minimum operational capacity at airports and in ground services; to maintain employment and provide additional training, and a commitment to work with the unions to identify job protection, upskilling and redeployment opportunities including for apprentices.
  • A commitment to invest in technology to reduce the carbon footprint of the aviation industry, and that the Jet Zero council will fully engage with and involve unions in the sector.
  • Make clear to the Civil Aviation Authority that an adjustment to Heathrow’s regulatory settlement is crucial as without such an adjustment consumers will pay more and Heathrow’s ability to support the UK’s economic recovery from COVID will be undermined.
  • Relief from all regulatory and policing charges for 2021 and retain for 2022.
  • Public service obligation routes for regional connectivity and important routes that are otherwise not returning.
  • Airport Restart fund for route charges.
  • Planned future aviation pandemic resilience and infrastructure protection, including implementation of recommendations in Airline Insolvency Review.
  • A tripartite body of government, trade unions and industry to replace the Environment Social and Governance group to guide aviation into the recovery and beyond.

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Prospect has members working in aviation, road, rail and maritime transportation, as well as regulation and research.