After three attempts, I finally had the opportunity to travel through Gatwick Airport this month. As I was flying within the UK, there was no requirement for PCR testing or passenger locator forms. The process upon arriving at North terminal to disembarking the aeroplane in Scotland was straightforward.
What was most notable was passenger capacity compared to ‘pre Covid’ August travel. Queues for bag drop were short and moved efficiently, there was not a queue for security. The departure lounge, whilst on first glance looked busy, when you looked closer, passengers were distancing and leaving spaces between groups travelling. The majority were also wearing an appropriate face covering. All in all, the experience was as pleasant as it could be in the circumstances.
Reflecting on the pandemic from a work perspective, whilst still busy, work loads have plateaued. When lockdown commenced in March 2020, IPA staff were working above and beyond to ensure that members furloughed, or at risk of redundancy were given the best support, advice, and representation possible. Those who continued to operate also had concerns which we addressed with their employers.
This summer sees changes to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furlough scheme), which means an increase in employer contribution to workers wages. The scheme ends on 30th September 2021, and there are concerns within the sector that there will be a further wave of redundancies, or employers seeking to further change terms and conditions of employment as a result of the changes to the scheme and its end. What is apparent from my own limited travels is that the aviation sector is nowhere near ‘coming out the other side’ of this pandemic. We must bear in mind that this is a sector that relies on movement of people for its success. There were only a limited number of ways in which operators could ‘adapt’ in order to generate any revenue during lockdown.
Certainly in England, we were told that the vaccination program was our way out of the pandemic to freedom. For many of those who chose to be vaccinated, there is frustration that significant hurdles to travel remain in place. Granted, whilst the UK government might add countries to the green lists, access to those countries relies on those on the list being prepared to accept and hopefully welcome travellers from the UK.
We have previously written about the reports of the Global Travel Taskforce and that those who can act are not acting fast enough to save the sector. There is no unified approach to global travel which would be the ideal support for the sector. Absent identifying safe ways for international travel to resume in the near future, we can only hope that the furlough scheme has enabled employers to now be in the position where no redundancies will prove necessary in the run up to or after the end of the furlough scheme.
We anticipate that passenger numbers are likely to hold steady into September, as those who are avoiding the school holidays may take the opportunity to travel. Sadly, where the UK aviation sector goes after that remains to be seen. All that we can say as a pilot union is that we are here to support members, whatever the future holds. Finally, we can’t stress enough the importance of IPA membership before any further employment issues arise. We continue to be contacted by either non members with employment issues, or have new joiners who immediately contact us with a pre existing employment issue. We are unable to assist in such situations. Many pilots now recognise this, and we have seen an increase in membership from across UK aviation sector in both fixed wing and rotary operations.
You can join the IPA online at ipapilot.com or contact the office on 01444 441149 should you have any questions.
by Claire Pickford
Chief Operating Officer