Yesterday in the Commons, Theresa May challenged the government’s position in respect of travel, and specifically aviation. The IPA has been concerned about the Global Travel Taskforce since its inception. Whilst it was established with good intentions, it seems to be lacking any gumption in terms of making actual progress. Its initial report, whilst setting out recommendations, failed to consider possible timescales for the recovery of the UK aviation industry. Hospitality is frequently in the press and cited as ‘one of the last industries to open up’, but the 4-step plan announced yesterday highlights that aviation continues to be hit hardest by the global pandemic.
It has been reported that yesterday saw a surge in holiday enquiries and indeed bookings, particularly foreign travel. The big question for the UK aviation industry is – are summer holidays back on for 2021? The answer to this depends on several factors, which are outside the control of those working within the industry. It is generally considered that the 12th of April reporting deadline means that the sector cannot be ready for whatever is to follow from that date, a point pressed by Theresa May yesterday.
Additionally, as one of, if not the last sector to reopen, there remains a woeful absence of specific tailored support for the industry. The Prime Minister (and any politician asked about aviation) relies on the general funding that has been made available to employers and the self-employed because of the pandemic. This response is frustrating to the sector as it fails to address the niche difficulties aviation has in comparison to other sectors. As we have previously commented, the sector effectively shut down overnight with no alternatives to even consider. There is no ‘thinking outside the box’ – you can either get on an aeroplane or not. There is no takeaway option, there is no online only, or click and collect option.
The sector is, quite rightly, heavily regulated which places duties and responsibilities on operators and individuals. Unlike other sectors hit hard by the pandemic, pilots cannot just walk into work the day of their rostered duty. Type ratings must be current, medicals must be maintained, and you cannot just bring the aeroplane out of storage.
The IPA has written to government on numerous occasions since the start of the pandemic, on behalf of our pilot members generally, but also those pilots who have, or have had specific circumstances that warrant further action. Our members have also written to their own MP’s highlighting the specific difficulties to them as pilots, but also to the wider sector. Our economy will not recover without travel, and failure to take decisive action will only serve to damage this industry further.
It is also important to address mental health. There is a historic stigma attached to this when it comes to pilots. We have held a number of pilot forums and encouraged our members to pick up the phone once a day and call a friend/colleague. You don’t have to talk about work, you don’t even have to mention covid. Just knowing that someone has taken the time to call and have a chat can do wonders for self-esteem. We are also happy to talk in confidence to any members who are finding things difficult. If we can’t help, we can point you in the direction of someone who can.
We all want a safe return to air travel, but the current position, whilst offering hope to the customer, really does nothing to alleviate concerns within the UK aviation sector. If aviation is one of the last sectors to recover, there must be support until that recovery takes place.
As always, we are here to help our members who need us and would encourage any member to contact us with any concerns that they have.