As the COP26 summit gets underway in Glasgow, the UK aviation industry continues its struggle to recover. Travel restrictions are easing within the UK, and global travel resumes (subject to local restrictions/requirements). Whilst many operators are looking to re-establish many of their pilots who were furloughed (which has not been possible post September), or on unpaid leave, or who significantly reduced their contracted hours, are they being optimistic?
Around 2.5% of global CO2 emissions comes from aviation (source – ourworldindata.org). In 2021, it was determined that aviation and shipping emissions would be included in the UK’s 2050 net zero emission target. The Global Travel Taskforce (established 7th October 2020) is responsible for the resumption of safe international travel, and the Jet Zero Council (its inaugural session held 22nd July 2020) has the aim of delivering zero emission transatlantic flights and finding ways to cut aviation emissions. The UK aviation industry has to address covid compliance and restrictions, whilst also exploring and committing to greener air travel.
The covid 19 pandemic, and the drive towards net zero raise the question – will the UK aviation industry ever recover to pre-pandemic levels? Certainly, the pandemic appears to be a catalyst to discourage ‘cheap’ flying, to urge ‘staycations’, and to find ‘green’ ways to travel.
The ease with which people have been able to travel (pre-covid) ensured that those who chose to relocate anywhere globally could see family and friends without constraint. The covid pandemic put an end to this, and has resulted in families being apart for longer periods that we could ever have imagined at the outset of covid 19. Depending upon where loved ones have relocated, it is now possible to fly and reunite, which is to be welcomed in terms of getting pilots back operating and the health and wellbeing of families who have been separated for so long.
This is an industry that was buoyant pre-covid and which was even talking about possible pilot shortages. Whilst there are still such projections, as the recovery of aviation varies from continent to continent and country to country, such a shortage is not predicted across Europe until 2024/25 (source – OliverWyman). It is likely that travel to see family and friends, or to enjoy a foreign holiday will resume steadily. Undoubtedly, the recent half term holiday saw more families seeking some ‘winter sun’. However, travel for business purposes has seen a long-term reduction with some movement to private aircraft and many more meetings being held remotely thereby avoiding the need to travel at all. In addition to the ongoing difficulties presented by a global pandemic, consumer demand will dictate how quickly pilots return to anything near pre-pandemic flying duties.
Kevin Conrad of the Special Climate Change Envoy for Papua New Guinea has this morning noted that world leaders are facing two major issues globally – covid 19 and climate change. It is not only world leaders facing these problems. Whilst we must be mindful of increasing rates of covid as travel restrictions ease, and we all have a responsibility to ensure a stable world for generations to come, the reality is that many pilots risk losing their jobs if aviation does not recover to a sustainable level.
We are here to support our members, whatever difficulties aviation faces, and whilst, like many operators we, as an aviation union want to be optimistic, this is not an industry that is out of the woods yet. This is evidenced by the number of calls we continue to receive from non-IPA members who need help.
We anticipated in the very early stages of the pandemic that aviation would likely be decimated, that the return to travel would go hand in hand with greener travel, and that ‘no jab, no job’ was a real possibility. We would therefore urge members to use the services of their union as and when they need to, and to encourage non members to join BEFORE their circumstances change. Much like car insurance, we will not ‘insure’ you after the event.