An aviation sector battered by the Covid-19 pandemic needs an immediate boost from a UK government recovery plan.
The country’s international hub Heathrow Airport applauded a 10-point plan released on Thursday called Flight to the Future, which will focus on industry growth, sustainability and protecting passengers.
A Heathrow spokeswoman said it was “vital” that the UK's aviation sector be rebuilt “on a sustainable trajectory” but added that speed was paramount.
“The necessary changes that will decarbonise and futureproof the benefits of flying can only be achieved when we all work together,” she said.
“We look forward to this opportunity through the new aviation council. Flightpath to the Future is the first step.
“Now we need government to bring pace to the policies that will allow the sector to fulfil the ambitions they are setting out today. Failure to do this will only see this plan grounded.”
Flight to the Future commits to “position the UK as a global aviation leader” and put the sector “on course to achieve jet zero”, a reference to reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Passenger numbers at UK airports last year were 78 per cent below pre-pandemic levels, as the country lagged behind other European countries due to tougher coronavirus restrictions.
A recent report by the Airports Operators Association showed that UK airports have lost £10 billion in revenue since the first lockdown in March 2020 and have taken on more than £4bn in debt.
Demand for UK flights has risen this year, coinciding with the scrapping of all travel rules.
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of trade body Airlines UK, said: “There can be no 'Global Britain' without the air connectivity that UK airlines deliver.
“We look forward to a laserlike focus from government on the levers it can pull to make the UK a truly competitive, global aviation hub.”
Consumer rights organisation Which? said more was needed to rebuild trust with the flying public.
“Poor treatment of passengers by some airlines has become routine — as we saw with carriers ignoring their legal obligations on refunds, rerouting and passenger rights during the pandemic and recent chaos at our airports,” said Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy and advocacy.
“There is much work to be done to restore consumer trust and the government must deliver reforms that work for passengers. The new aviation council would be better placed to improve the travel experience with passenger and consumer groups as members.
“While a passenger charter is welcome, what passengers really need is a regulator to enforce the rights they already have.”
A one-stop guide for consumers
Fight to the Future will include the creation of a new aviation council made up of representatives from airlines, airports and elsewhere in the sector, as well as ministers and officials from the UK government and devolved administrations.
The strategy sets out that the government will “unlock local benefits” and support increases to airport capacity “where justified”.
It also states that an aviation passenger charter will be published later this year as a “one-stop guide” for consumers to know their rights when flying.
The 10-point plan will aim to:
- recover and sustainably grow the aviation sector
- position the UK as a global aviation leader
- support growth in airport capacity where justified
- put the sector on course to achieve jet zero
- capture the potential of new technology and its uses
- unlock local benefits and level up
- unleash the potential of the next generation of aviation professionals
- make the UK the best place in the world for general aviation
- improve the consumer experience
- retain world-leading record on safety and security
“The pandemic posed an existential threat to the aviation sector. Now recovery has started, we have a chance to build back better than ever before,” said Aviation Minister Robert Courts.