UK aviation is a growing success story.
More than 251m passengers passed through a UK airport in 2015 – a record number – and our airlines, which operate from more than 40 airports across the country, carried 144m people and 1m tonnes of cargo last year. The industry is worth almost £50bn to our national income and contributes north of £8bn in tax revenue to the Treasury annually.
The sector is in an excellent position to meet the UK’s ever-growing demand for air travel. Airlines are expanding their networks and spending billions on new, quieter planes that reduce fuel burn, minimise carbon emissions and ensure that the industry can continue to grow while limiting its environmental impact. Aviation is also keen to play its full part in boosting economic growth and opening up the UK to new trading opportunities.
The decision to leave the EU, however, obviously has important consequences for the future of aviation. It is hard to think of a sector that has experienced such a profound transformation since access to the Single Market was secured.
Lower prices for consumers, greater choice and competition, increased access to new routes – both within the EU and across continents – these have all been secured as a consequence of the liberalisation of aviation that has gathered pace over the past two decades. Whatever happens once Article 50 is invoked and the process of negotiation with the EU begins, it is imperative that these advantages are maintained.
This will require the UK government to reach new agreements on maintaining market access – without which airlines will have no legal right to operate services. Leaving the EU will affect rights to travel not only between the UK and the EU, but also with other destinations, including the United States.
Reaching an agreement rapidly on aviation should therefore take precedence over other sectors, where negotiations will no doubt be prolonged. The aim should be to conclude aviation negotiations as soon as possible, to minimise the risk to the UK economy from uncertainty.
Moreover, there are particular markets that must be prioritised, because of their importance to the UK economy and the number of passengers that rely on the freedom to travel these routes. Maintaining access to the EU and US – as our largest trading partners – should be foremost in the minds of the government. Our continued membership of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) should also be preserved – with all EASA rules and regulations applied to UK operators and companies based in the UK. The ability to shape future EASA policy should be safeguarded too.
Now more than ever, as the UK pivots towards a strategy of reaching out to emerging markets and hopefully resists the temptation to turn inwards, there is a crucial role for aviation in enhancing our national prosperity. Trade, inward investment and connectivity should be the buzzwords for the new government.
We will do all we can to assist but, in order to achieve this, we require a framework from ministers that enables us to grow and preserves the links and access that have allowed the UK to build the third largest aviation sector in the world.