The Transport Select Committee has published a report condemning the actions of a certain UK operator as a result of the COVID19 pandemic and challenges the Government decision that from 8th June 2020 all passengers arriving in the UK must quarantine for 14 days (with very limited exceptions).
There is no doubt that the pandemic has caused a global crisis with economies being hit overnight and has left many industries facing a long-term battle for recovery and in many cases, just survival. The aviation sector has been particularly damaged as it is reliant solely on the movement of people. It remains the case at time of writing that advice is only essential travel (by whatever method) should be considered, and that if you can work from home, that is what you should do.
The news from UK operators is that slowly the industry is restarting. Monday saw the first early morning flight out of Gatwick to Glasgow in 11 weeks, and whilst the flight was hardly at capacity, it is seen as a small glimmer of hope for people whose livelihoods depend on this industry restarting and recovering.
The Independent Pilots Association (IPA) has been working since lockdown to advise, support and represent members in several situations that have arisen in their employment. The response to the pandemic has been well publicised and documented, and we have seen a broad spectrum of responses in the UK sector. Some airlines are behaving better than others. Quite rightly, the priority for our members is the retention of their jobs, but this is conditional on the restart and recovery already mentioned. It is accepted that there will be some redundancies, and we have heard from various sources that 2019 levels of travel will not be reached again for at least three years post pandemic. Five years has been mentioned.
In order to support many sectors, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is continuing until October 2020, but from 1st July 2020 the scheme will begin to change, with employers gradually taking more of the burden for their employees subsidised wages. There is widespread concern that come October, the end of the Flexible Furlough Scheme will result in a wave of redundancies. Whether this will impact the aviation industry in the same way as other areas will depend upon what happens over the next couple of months.
Quarantine is going to affect the movement of people by air transport. The report of the Transport Select Committee expresses concerns regarding the 14-day blanket quarantine and identifies the ongoing damage this causes to the aviation sector and the wider economy. Whilst the government has set a review date for the end of this month the number of flights, and the number of passengers on these flights is perhaps an indicator that quarantine is hampering the restart and recovery of UK aviation.
It is recommended that the DfT works with the devolved administrations and those within the industry and other relevant government departments to publish a strategy for the restart and recovery of the aviation sector. However, this recommendation has been made over 11 weeks into this pandemic. Whilst a report on strategy is requested by 1st July 2020, how long will implementation of any strategy take and at what cost to the aviation sector in the intervening period? The sector looks likely to kickstart itself before any meaningful help is given in terms of practical steps in the recovery of aviation and thus the wider UK economy.
On 12th June 2020, at the Coronavirus Daily Update, Grant Shapps announced the creation of the Jet Zero Council, with a view to making net zero carbon emissions a reality going forward. Whilst it is unlikely that anyone would challenge the need for a greener future, an immediate concern is that this will create a potential barrier to the recovery in the short term, if the return to flying becomes dependent upon greener flights.
Most UK operators have already established carbon offsetting programmes with a view to a greener industry, but the aviation sector needs some breathing space to get back on its feet as lockdown diminishes and a sustainable and safe way forward is established for aircrew and their passengers. For as long as the FCO guidance continues to advise British nationals against all but essential international travel, the restart and recovery will be limited. Whilst operators continue to offer the usual summer holidays, for many, the current impediments to air travel outweigh the desire for a week or two in the sun at some point later this year.
As a pilot union, we are frustrated at the lack of specific assistance for the industry. Our members are frustrated at the uncertainty this situation has created, and in some cases the actions of the employer are leading to even greater frustration and in some cases, anger.
The aviation sector forms an integral part of the UK economy, whether people are travelling for their holiday, to see family or friends, or for business reasons, so our pilots will be needed. For these reasons those in a position to make a difference must fight for those affected.
We have spoken with members in our airline specific Zoom calls about them writing to their local MP, or any MP who supports the aviation sector, or whose constituency is an area that is heavily reliant on aviation, to try and get the help that is so desperately needed. This is something you may wish to consider doing.
Whilst some pilots have already been given notice of redundancy, it is hoped that if the government changes its position in terms of quarantine and can quickly offer some practical hope to the industry, it may be possible for many jobs to be saved.
On behalf of our members, we have made submissions to the Transport Select Committee, contacted government ministers of relevant departments, and perhaps most importantly been there 24/7 for our members. We have challenged operators where we believe their processes or decisions are wrong, and we will continue to do so until a satisfactory way forward can be found. We are also working with airlines to ensure proper and transparent communication.
Rest assured, the IPA will be here for its members throughout these most challenging of times and beyond, as even through this pandemic pilots continue to join us as they know that we will protect their interests.