Comment: Standing up for UK carriers, a great British success story

Comment: Standing up for UK carriers, a great British success story

As Bata rebrands as Airlines UK, chief executive Tim Alderslade says there has never been a more important time for aviation's voice to be heard

Bata has been representing the interests of UK-registered airlines to Governments and regulators for over 40 years. Today the UK aviation market is the world’s third largest and our member airlines employ 76,000 people and carry 144 million passengers a year and a million tonnes of cargo.

UK aviation is a great British success story, in which Bata has played its part – but times change and Bata is changing too, as we seek to ensure that the voice of UK airlines is heard across Westminster, in the devolved Parliaments and in the media.

To do that well we need a name that will help us to more easily be and do “what it says on the tin” and that is why we are today changing our brand to become ‘Airlines UK - the association of UK airlines’. We have a new website and a fresh corporate brand and logo.

There has never been a more important time for the voice of UK airlines to be heard loud and clear by politicians, civil servants, regulators, journalists and the wider public. Issues like a new runway at Heathrow and Brexit will affect UK aviation for years to come and we need to ensure that the views of airlines feature prominently in the coming debates.

Take Heathrow for example. We have welcomed the Government’s decision to support the building of a new runway there as long overdue, having previously made the case that additional capacity at the airport offers greater potential economic and social advantages than expansion at Gatwick. However, we also recognise that there will be some tough discussions ahead, not least on landing charges.

We agree with Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, that what is needed is not expansion carte blanche, “but the right scheme at the right price”. Grayling told the Commons that the aim should be a plan for expansion that keeps landing charges close to current levels and – liaising with the CAA – airlines will be working to ensure that this becomes a reality.

The airport will need to convince its customers that it can deliver a new runway without raising charges – and this may require changes to the scheme design. Any new infrastructure should be affordable and cost-effective and the price paid by customers should not increase.

Another important issue for our members in the coming months will be Brexit. Airlines UK will be seeking to persuade Ministers and civil servants that aviation is as vital a UK interest as the automotive or banking sectors.

Aviation matters for its own sake, but also because of the vital role that it plays in helping our island economy to connect to the global economy and that will be more important than ever after the UK has left the European Union.

We have already made clear to Ministers and civil servants in Government that our members want to retain access to a fully deregulated and liberalised EU aviation market that the UK itself did so much to create.

The Government does not have to wait for the EU negotiations to begin to take steps to support our sector. This month’s Autumn Statement, for example, offers a perfect opportunity to boost UK aviation at a critical time by dealing with Air Passenger Duty.

We have been lobbying for a 50% cut in both long-haul and short-haul rates – ideally that would an initial step towards the abolition of APD by the end of this Parliament. If the Government is serious about achieving its vision for the UK as a standard-bearer of global free trade, in the post-Brexit environment, then removing APD must rise to the top of its to-do list.

Only aviation can connect the UK to the emerging markets that are seen as vital to our continued prosperity. Such a course of action would also make concerns about market distortions and unfairness for passengers caused by the devolution of the tax to Scotland redundant and – even more importantly – deliver substantial economic advantages to the country.

We are also campaigning, among other things, for Ministers to support the development of sustainable aviation fuels, to put in place a stable, long-term framework that recognises the need to modernise airspace, to work towards a better and properly funded border operation at airports, to improve the visa regime and to promote connectivity to and from our regions.

On many of these issues we will continue to work in close partnership with partners in the aviation, aerospace and tourism sectors, through coalitions such as A Fair Tax on Flying (on APD), Sustainable Aviation (on carbon emissions and noise) and The Sky’s the Limit (on airspace modernisation).

But where UK airlines need a distinctive voice we won’t hesitate to provide it. We are proud of our Bata heritage, but we are also determined that through Airlines UK the voice of UK airlines will be clearer than ever.

That will help to ensure that our airlines will be operating in an environment that enables them to continue to be a UK success story, for the advantage not only of airline passengers but also the whole UK economy.

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