Aviation industry needs urgent clarity from the government on expansion and Brexit

A strong aviation industry is crucial to the UK's status as a global, outward looking nation; it is particularly important following our decision to leave the European Union. The British aviation industry is the largest in the EU and the third largest in the world after the United States and China. It provides £50 billion of economic benefits to the UK as well as sustaining nearly a million jobs. Getting the right Brexit deal for aviation is therefore vital.

That's why Labour has called on the government to prioritise securing an agreement on aviation as we leave the EU. None of the Brexit policy papers covered transport which doesn't reflect well on the government's priorities. Airlines plan a year in advance so working back from March 2019 means the deadline is four months away. This uncertainty is highly damaging for the industry although some companies evidently seem to be less concerned than others.

Labour's view is that any new agreements for aviation following Brexit should replicate the status quo as far as possible including retention of access to the Single European Skies system and full membership of the European Aviation Safety Agency. Anything less will make life harder for the industry.

Last month's revised public consultation into proposals for a third runway at Heathrow once again highlighted the urgent need for clarity on the future of airport capacity. Labour supports expansion provided our tests on capacity, emissions and regional benefits are met. In addition, expansion must be premised upon making better use of our existing capacity and developing a strategy to support smaller airports.

The government's consultation on its aviation strategy up to 2050 is welcome but we regret that aviation is not more prominent in either the air quality plan or clean growth strategy. Labour believes the Department for Transport needs to set out in more detail how it will deliver the provisions of the Climate Change Act within aviation.

We support the government's proposals to modernise our airspace which were finally published last month. Modernisation can improve safety and increase efficiency while helping to constrain the environmental impact. We believe that any changes should be made on the basis of noise impact and in full consultation with affected communities.

There is a strong case for examining the overall effectiveness of air passenger duty. Is there a more effective way to drive behavioural change across the industry in terms of pollution and noise? At the very least there is a compelling case for one rate of air passenger duty across the United Kingdom.

We need to get more passengers to airports by public transport. I accept progress has been made on this but we need to go further, which is why Labour would instruct the National Infrastructure Commission to assess the surface access needs to our airports to inform future road building and investment into our rail network.

For example, the links between rail and airports for the 16 million people in the north of England are not good enough and the government's plans for the region's transport networks are unambitious. I know Manchester airport is investing £1 billion in a transformation programme. Labour supports a Crossrail for the North to boost connectivity between the region's cities and drive economic growth across the north of England and into north Wales.

I don't want to see air passengers short-changed by Brexit. UK air passenger rights following Brexit should not be less than they currently are.

The industry's workforce is one of its greatest assets and, in consultation with the trade unions, the driving force for much of its success. Many UK airports have extensive investment plans totalling many billions of pounds. These plans are a great opportunity to boost the skills of the workforce and deliver apprenticeships, training and opportunities to local supply chains.

Three quarters of visitors to the UK come by air. Outside of the EU, we are going to need an entirely new framework for customs and border controls. The government must therefore commit to providing additional resources to Border Forces to ensure they can process the increased passenger numbers. It must also work closely with industry to adapt border arrangements following Brexit.

I am determined that new technology must not endanger the excellent safety record we have in the UK aviation industry. The government must consider bringing forward new and stronger regulations and, indeed, legislation to ensure that drones and lasers to not compromise air safety.

The Conservatives say that they are the champions of business. In fact, they are the first government in recent memory for whom the economy is not their number one priority. Labour will continue to support business and industry, including the aviation industry, through the many challenges and opportunities which lie ahead.

Edited version of a speech to the Airport Operators Association conference on 30th October.