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Government aviation recovery plan cannot come quick enough for stricken sector

7 September 2020

Details of a forthcoming Government strategy for the recovery of the aviation sector have been published today in a Department for Transport Response to the committee’s Report, The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the aviation sector.

The Committee’s Report called for a comprehensive recovery strategy for an aviation sector devastated by the coronavirus pandemic and the wider implications it heralded for the UK economy.  MPs had expressed their concern about the lack of detail and pace of action by the Government and the DfT’s Aviation Restart, Recovery and Engagement Unit, as they published their report four months into the crisis.

In today’s Response, the Government sets out plans to publish a strategy for the recovery of the aviation sector during the Autumn. The aviation recovery plan, to run to 2025, is expected to address some of the Committee’s concerns under broad headings:

  • the return to growth of the sector; workforce and skills;
  • regional connectivity and freight; innovation and regulation;
  • consumer issues; climate change and decarbonisation;
  • health, safety and security; and the critical role that UK aviation plays in retaining the UK’s global reach.

The Department also says it is looking “at the recovery of the sector in the context of the Government’s green ambitions.”

Among the responses to the Report’s recommendations, the Committee notes:

  • On the recommendation that Air Passenger Duty payments should be temporarily suspended, the Chancellor has announced a consultation on aviation tax reform.
  • The Government contends that it is currently legally prevented from intervening in the slot allocation process. The Response indicates that ministers are considering the need for reform which encourages competition, provides connectivity and benefits UK customers.
  • The Government’s initial blanket quarantine has been replaced by the establishment of travel corridors, enabling the more agile response which the Committee recommended. The Response does not engage with the Committee’s recommendations for health screening at airports or common international health standards.
  • On passenger refunds, the Government recently announced it will financially stand behind the Air Travel Trust Fund. It will also look at the CAA’s enforcement powers to ensure it has the powers it needs to ensure businesses are compliant and consumers are protected.

The Response details some of the work which the Government is doing to retain jobs in the sector. Although Government states its profound regret about the decisions taken by British Airways, the Response says these are commercial decisions and it is ultimately down to private business to decide on adjustments. The Chairman and CEO of British Airways, Alex Cruz, will appear at the Transport Committee on Wednesday 16 September at 9.30am. The session will be an opportunity for the Committee to receive an update on the current challenges facing the aviation sector and British Airways’ staffing plans.

Chair's comments

Chair of the Transport Select Committee, Huw Merriman MP, said:

“The publication of an aviation recovery plan is welcome but it cannot come quick enough for a sector devastated by the impact of coronavirus. Our report expressed a desire to see more pace and detail on Government action to address the crisis. We await the Government’s aviation recovery plan and will look carefully at how Government intends to deal with some of the specific points in our report.

“The Government’s quarantine regime, coupled by a refusal to endorse airport testing to reduce the quarantine period, adds further barriers to travel. Whilst the Government’s approach can be argued for on health grounds, it also further justifies the Committee’s original call for the Government to provide a sector deal to support our ailing aviation industry and its workforce.

“With regard to passenger refunds, the regulator has reviewed the behaviour of some airlines, but it needs more teeth to protect consumers. I am sympathetic to the plight of the airline industry, but the pressures of this pandemic does not excuse how some customers have been treated.

“British Airways’ ‘fire and rehire’ policy has rightly attracted criticism from Government ministers and the Prime Minister himself. It is disappointing that direct legislative action has not been enacted to make this type of action unlawful. The Government says the recovery plan will ‘consider the role of the slot system in rebuilding a competitive aviation sector’ – I look forward to hearing how ministers plan to set out their preferred means of reform."

The Transport Committee plans to keep the issues raised in the aviation report in full view of ministers and fellow Members and will host a debate on the floor of the House on Thursday 10th September.

Further information

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