Johnson’s aviation plans not a long-term solution

Unite: free market approach to regional connectivity has been a failure

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Unite, the UK’s principal aviation union, has warned that proposals by the prime minister Boris Johnson to reduce aviation passenger duty (APD) will not create long-term improvements in the UK’s connectivity.

Mr Johnson said today (10 March) that his government will launch a consultation to consider cutting air passenger duty on domestic flights, in order to improve regional connectivity across the UK.

Unite is concerned that, while a reduction in APD will in the short-term provide a kick start to the industry (which has been devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic) by offering cheap flights, the policy is deeply flawed and is repeating previous mistakes of relying on the free market to improve connectivity in the UK.

Unite believes that a more successful long-term strategy should involve the greater use of public service obligation (PSO) routes, where the government provides a financial incentive for airlines to operate key routes, which would ensure that connectivity can be better achieved.

As an added benefit the creation of PSO routes could be made conditional on airlines meeting environmental requirements which will provide a financial incentive to airlines to green their operations.

Unite national officer for civil aviation Oliver Richardson said, “The prime minister’s proposals would create a short-term benefit but it fails to address the long-term challenges of improving regional connectivity.

“The free market approach to regional connectivity has been a failure. Airlines operate routes which are profitable and these don’t match the areas where connectivity needs to improve.

“If the government is serious about regional connectivity, it needs to establish a cohesive set of public service obligation routes, ensuring that airlines fly to destinations where connectivity needs improving,” he added.

“Such PSO routes can be linked to environmental requirements, which airlines bidding for the routes would have to meet. This would create clear incentives to the airline industry to embark on the green revolution, which is required if the UK is to meet its climate targets.”

Since the Covid-19 pandemic Unite has been calling for the government to introduce a sector specific package of support for the aviation industry.

Unite believes that such sectorial support should encompass the economic and fiscal measures needed to support the sector.

This includes the extension of, and modifications to, the coronavirus job retention scheme to protect employment in the aviation sector.

Unite is also calling for public service obligation routes to ensure regional connectivity; business rate relief for airports (as in Scotland and Northern Ireland); and an extension of the period of repayment of loans to aviation companies beyond the current two year maximum.

All financial support and loans should be provided on the condition that recipients have a clear programme of transition to more efficient and greener travel operations.

By Barckley Sumner

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