More than two months on from the promised but yet to emerge government support for the UK’s beleaguered aviation industry, Unite is warning that without urgent action regional economies will take a big hit – destroying the prime minster’s pledge to ‘level up’ the economy.
Research commissioned by Unite highlights the vast economic contributions airports make to regional economies – and details the devastating effect that an airport closure or severe reduction in activity would have on the local area. An estimated 1.2m UK workers rely on aviation for their employment, many working in the airports, airlines, retail, services and in transport jobs associated with air travel.
The report is published 24-hours after the sector suffered yet another blow as airline easyJet announced plans to cut its workforce by 30 per cent. easyJet is a hugely important player for regional airports, with major bases at Gatwick and Luton.
Unite’s research details how Heathrow, the UK’s largest airport, supports a total of 190,000 jobs across the UK and generates an income of £9.7bn for the national economy.
It also shows the economic benefits of regional airports to local economies. For example Bristol airport indirectly supports 15,000 jobs in the South West and generates £1.3bn, while Glasgow airport is another significant economic contributor, supporting 8,200 jobs and generating £590m.
Northern Ireland is particularly reliant on air travel to ensure connectivity within the UK and beyond. Its two airports Belfast International and Belfast City are also major employers, supporting 4,000 workers, directly employed at the airports.
Meanwhile in Wales, Cardiff is the principal airport, directly and indirectly supporting 2,600 jobs and generating £93m for the local economy.
Gatwick: worst affected?
Studies have suggested that Gatwick and the nearby town of Crawley could be worst affected by lack of support for the sector. The airport generates £2.7bn for the South East and directly and indirectly supports 43,000 jobs.
But it is not just about the larger airports – smaller airports including Aberdeen, Bournemouth, Doncaster/Sheffield, Exeter and Southampton are all as vital to their local economies as their bigger counterparts.
The new research Economic and social importance of the UK’s regional airports further develops the key messages found in Unite’s own aviation blueprint UKaviation flying into the future. This gives details of the actions needed to be taken by government to protect airlines and airports and to preserve jobs and conditions in the sector – which has been severely impacted by Covid-19.
Unite is warning that without a specific bespoke package for the industry or risk losing tens of thousands of jobs. All airports are impacted and smaller regional airports may even be forced to close permanently.
“Airports are hubs for massive economic activity for our towns and cities, supporting jobs from cabin crew and ground handling to engineers and cleaners,” commented Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland.
“But they are facing huge challenges at the moment and need urgent assistance to secure a future where they can continue to provide important routes and support millions of direct and indirect jobs,” she added.
Holland continued, “The prime minister himself made clear on May 27 that he is committed to levelling up the economy, to spread the economic benefits more fairly. That really must mean helping our airports through these tough times as, possibly more than any other industry, they provide jobs and incomes in every corner of the country.
“To lose them or see them diminish as employers will open up huge holes in local economies the length and breadth of the country.
“It is crucial that regional airports are supported by the government to ensure that regional connectivity and local economies are not irrevocably damaged with mass job losses, especially in those parts of the country where they are a major employer or the heart of the economy.”
Holland firmly stated that Unite believes, “Regional connectivity is a vital lifeline that needs to be preserved and enhanced through support for specific routes through public service obligation funding.
“Our airports are central to our infrastructure and vital for business, travel and even the NHS. They must be preserved for the nation’s benefit.”
By Barckley Sumner