Comment: The government should help aviation safeguard our national prosperity

Comment: The government should help aviation safeguard our national prosperity

By Tim Alderslade, chief executive of British Air Transport Association

The UK has a long and proud aviation history and our airlines are among the best in the world. Whether travelling for business or leisure, passengers can now reach hundreds of destinations and have a choice of carriers.

With intense competition, fares are low and service standards are high. Our modern way of life – from the delivery of letters and packages, to just in time manufacturing and even some of the food we eat – depends on the dedicated air freight services and transporting of goods in the holds of passenger aircraft.

Around 40% of the UK’s trade with economies outside of the EU, by value, is transported by air and in 2014, the total value of tradable goods carried through UK airports exceeded £140 billion.

Aviation is a real UK success story, allowing our nation to boast the third-largest aviation network in the world, behind only the United States and China.

The industry here is virtually completely privately funded and does not ask for nor want public subsidies, apart from the operation of a very small number of regional and lifeline air routes.

UK airports are performing well, with a record-breaking 251 million passengers using them in 2015, to travel on business, holiday and to see friends and relatives.

UK airlines link all the nations and regions of the British Isles, operating from around 40 airports in and offering services to over 250 destinations around the world, connecting the UK with all six inhabited continents.

Passengers and cargo customers have certainly gained from the new routes, lower prices, greater choice and stronger competition brought about by the liberalisation of the EU aviation market.The UK economy has also gained from the jobs and growth generated by increased air travel.

One of the greatest and perhaps most tangible achievements of the EU over the last 30 years has been this process of liberalisation and the creation of a single market for aviation, with substantial changes to the economic and regulatory landscape, resulting in a totally different environment for air travel and the travelling public compared with the period up until the late 1980s.

How the government responds to the result of the EU referendum will have enormous consequences for the future of aviation and air travel.

The British Air Transport Association (Bata), which represents UK-registered airlines, is still consulting with its members, but the majority have already been clear that they wish for ministers to ensure that the UK retains this fully deregulated and liberalised aviation market.

This could potentially be achieved through the UK joining the European Common Aviation Area (Ecaa) once we leave the EU, which already extends EU aviation liberalisation to neighbouring countries such as Norway, Israel, Morocco and Switzerland, and covers a total of 36 countries and 500 million people.

Airlines are seeking urgent clarity from both the government and the European Commission as to how this process might proceed moving forwards, and above all they are urging the government to ensure that aviation-related negotiations, agreements and decisions during the EU withdrawal process are prioritised, in order to acknowledge the special status that aviation enjoys within an island nation.

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 to play in safeguarding our national prosperity.

UK airlines are up for the challenge – it is now the responsibility of government to react quickly to the developments of the past couple of weeks and set out the guiding principles for how this will be achieved.

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