Opinion: A UK success story which needs sustaining

Opinion: A UK success story which needs sustaining

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Aviation brings clear benefits and can meet the environmental challenges of expanding capacity. Sustainable Aviation programme director Andy Jefferson explains

Sustainable Aviation, a coalition of UK airlines, airports, manufacturers and air navigation service providers, celebrated its tenth anniversary last year.

It has spent that time tracking the progress of the industry and setting out the potential to reduce aviation’s CO2 and noise emissions.

A series of ‘Road Maps’ set out the potential to deliver reductions in emissions through a mix of new aircraft and engines, improved operations including better use of UK airspace, and development of new technologies and sustainable fuels.

Our focus remains first and foremost on how to reduce the aviation industry’s impact on the environment to enable the sector to grow sustainably.

However, the publication last year of the Davies Commission’s report on airport capacity in the southeast forced aviation up the political agenda and we felt now was the right time to look at the other side of the coin – aviation’s contribution to the UK economy and wider society.

Our latest report, the Sustainable Aviation UK Aviation Industry Socio-Economic Report published last month, collates data from across the sector to provide a picture of how aviation contributes to UK plc.

The picture that emerges is clear – aviation is a fantastic UK success story.

The UK has the third-largest aviation network in the world and the second largest aerospace manufacturing sector.

The aviation sector has a turnover of over £60 billion a year, contributes £52 billion to our GDP and almost one million UK jobs are directly or indirectly supported by it.

In addition, our aerospace manufacturing generates annual exports of £26 billion, has a global market opportunity of £3.5 trillion over the next 20 years and employs more than 100,000 highly skilled people in the UK.

The report also looks at the wider, often overlooked social benefits which derive from UK aviation.

It allows people the freedom and ability to travel for holidays, to study or to see friends and relatives.

Aviation enables us to connect to the world and helps to drive our vital tourist industry, with almost three quarters of overseas visitors to the UK in 2014 arriving by air.

Alongside travel and tourism, the sector also generates significant economic and social benefits through investment in our workforce.

I’m pleased that the report looks at the highly productive skills, apprenticeships and employment offered in aerospace manufacturing, airline and airport operations and air navigation industries across the UK.

The aviation industry is leading the way in delivering high-quality training and apprenticeships.

Some are developing bespoke training programmes, such as the NATS engineering apprenticeship scheme launched in 2015 which will train a new generation of fully qualified air traffic engineers.

Others have set up dedicated training facilities, such as Flybe’s state-of-the-art training academy opened in 2010.

Unlike some sectors which cluster in a small number of places, aviation’s reach is widespread with hardly a constituency in the country without an aviation business.

The sector has led the way in building strong links with local communities. For example, Birmingham Airport has been working with Small Heath secondary school for the past seven years to provide students in one of Birmingham’s most deprived wards with experiences that excite and challenge them and help them to develop the skills they need when they start work.

The aviation sector invests £1.7 billion annually in research and development – investment vital to keeping UK aviation and aerospace at the cutting edge of technology and to maintaining the UK’s position as having the largest aerospace industry in Europe.

The industry is also looking to the future and working hard to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) careers through initiatives such as Boeing’s Schools Build-a-Plane Challenge.

Within Sustainable Aviation, we are clear – alongside these benefits come significant challenges.

We recognise the benefits must be balanced against aviation’s environmental impacts.

The work that Sustainable Aviation has been doing over the past 10 years demonstrates our determination and ability to ensure aviation continues to deliver significant benefits to the economy while also managing our environmental impacts effectively.

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