Aviation: Mitigating the Impact of Covid-19

Runnymede and Weybridge benefits from close links to Heathrow, Gatwick, London, and through these the world.  As a result, we are one of the best places in the UK to work and set up a business, and the UK’s aviation industry is key to the success of our local economy: from the many residents directly employed by Heathrow or carriers to the freight and logistics companies reliant on open transport routes. 

However coronavirus has resulted in a dramatic reduction in domestic and international flights, posing a real threat to the industry and the jobs and businesses that rely on it. The aviation industry needs to get moving again. 

I am working with Government and industry to address these concerns and provide as much clarity as possible at this time. This page will be updated with developments, however if you are affected or wish to raise concerns, please contact me at ben.spencer.mp@parliament.uk.

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Update: 16 September

Alex Cruz, CEO of British Airways, today confirmed they have reached a series of deals with Unions representing BA staff. The new agreements, which are currently being put to employees, if accepted, would mean the end to the threat of ‘fire and rehire’, and could protect many of the allowances which form a significant part of employee’s income.

I am delighted that progress is being made for the thousands of BA staff who have been facing such uncertainty throughout the summer. While there are still many issues to address, this is a very positive step forward. The agreements, if approved, will hopefully eliminate the need to issue new contracts, and mean an end to months of stress and anxiety for BA staff.

Mr Cruz also highlighted weekly changes to air corridors, no testing solution and the need to still pay Air Passenger Duty as three major challenges for the industry. As you are aware these are three of the issues I have been campaigning on behalf of the aviation sector, its businesses and staff, throughout the summer.

Committee member Greg Smith MP (who I happen to share an office with) took the opportunity to ask why he had not been willing to meet with me on behalf of constituents employed by BA. I am delighted Mr Cruz has now confirmed he is willing to meet  and I have already written again to arrange this so that we can continue to build on this progress for the benefit of their airlines, staff, and the sector as a whole. A copy of this letter is attached below.


Update: 11 September

The debate on how best to support the aviation sector continues apace, with MPs continuing to press the Government to introduce measures to support the sector and the jobs and businesses that rely on our international connectivity.

I understand and support the need to maintain covid safe measures, but quarantine alone is a blunt tool which is damaging the long term prospects of the sector and our economy. Air corridors provided some relief and support for the peak summer months, but with covid rates rising across Europe again, the frequent policy changes required do little to restore passenger confidence in the sector.

I continue to lobby for international safety standards and airport testing. Many of these issues were raised in a parliamentary debate on aviation yesterday. I had hoped to speak in this debate, however there remain restrictions on how many members can speak in debates, and I unfortunately was not given the opportunity on this occasion. A copy of the speech I would have given is attached at the bottom of this page for information.

This highlights on the need for testing, and the scientific case for how this could deliver stability and improve confidence, while reducing quarantine and providing covd protections. We must as always be led by the science in our pursuit of long term solutions to the impact of the pandemic. I have therefore written to the Cabinet Office requesting the publication of further scientific research, and will continue to press colleagues across Government for the need to use this data to introduce long term sustainable solutions to safeguard the safety of the aviation sector, and the jobs and businesses which rely upon it.


Update: 4 August

The last two weeks have seen further uncertainty in the aviation sector. With school holidays starting many families have been jetting off on holiday, and it has been great to see the planes flying and some confidence returning. However this was hit by the need to reimpose restrictions on Spain, and building concern over the increasing rates of infection in some parts of England.

The Government has taken steps to support consumer confidence, by supporting the ATOL scheme to ensure customers receive compensation payments where due. Measures are also being taken to extend consumer protections for customers who accept travel vouchers in lieu of refunds, boosting confidence in the sector and helping to support travel businesses. These will help to reassure customers, and is a welcome support to the aviation and travel sectors.

Debate has turned to whether testing should be introduced instead of travel corridors. This week I ‘virtually’ met with John Holland-Kaye, CEO of Heathrow, who is a leading advocate for testing to be introduced at UK airports, and discussed this further.  The reintroduction of travel restrictions to Spain was necessary due to rising rates of infection.  But each country cannot go it alone in terms of air travel and we need international safety standards, as I have been calling for, and measures which can provide greater certainty for the industry, not just those that respond to the changing course of this pandemic. 

The sector needs a solution that works irrespective of infection rates in countries, that reduces risks to a safe level.  The aviation sector prides itself on safety and risk management, and is often used as a model for other organisations such as the NHS to learn from.  I believe that the industry and the UK can again show global ambition and leadership here, and develop a solution based on science and testing that can form the basis of new Covid international flight safety standards.  I will be raising this with Secretary of State for Transport who himself was directly impacted by events over the weekend.  The collapse of the Spanish air bridge puts into sharp focus the challenges that the sector faces on the path to recovery. 


Update: 17 July

With the summer holidays upon us it is reassuring to see some planes back flying overhead, however I know much more needs to be done to protect both the short and long-term future of the jobs and businesses across the sector.

This week I have spoken to BALPA, the pilots’ union, and I understand the package of measures they have negotiated with BA will be balloted on by members and I look forward to the result.  I strongly encourage all unions and representatives to meet to discuss the situation with BA and other employers. 

In other news, I was very pleased with the announcement this week that Virgin Atlantic had secured investment which will save thousands of jobs.

Many of the emails I am now receiving are now looking at what measures can be taken at the national level to support the sector, ensure fair competition and long-term sustainability. Now that we have moved away from the use of blanket quarantine measures, the main barrier to passenger flying is consumer demand, which has collapsed.  Part of this will be resolved by more confidence in the safety of flying, which is why I have stressed the need for international safety standards. But the sector is also in need of financial measures that stimulate that demand as we have in other sectors such as the hospitality industry with the ‘eat out to help out’ deals. I have already called on the Chancellor to directly support the sector.

Some are also now calling for a blanket cut in Airline Passenger Duty (APD) to stimulate demand.  But if we are also to support the sector for the long term, we need to carefully consider our options.

Before covid the industry faced challenges around sustainability and climate change.  I have spoken to the sustainable aviation group on this subject, and the key need for investment in technology and ongoing research and innovation. A cut to APD could provide a short-term stimulus, but it could also have a key role in helping bring about long-term change leading to more innovation and investment in the sector and supporting more jobs.

I have already called for aviation sector specific financial support linked to sustainability commitments (such as cleaner and quieter engines, and investment in electric plane technology), we should also look to link reductions in APD to support meaningful climate change and sustainability commitments by the carriers.  Ultimately supporting more jobs and the industry and all who depend on it going forwards.


Update: 3 July 2020

I am delighted that today’s announcements on international travel means we are able to get planes flying again, supporting our aviation sector and enabling more UK travellers to enjoy a holiday this year.  

The announcement by Grant Shapps, Transport Secretary, will see travel corridors being created with 59 countries, meaning travellers will be able to go abroad to these locations without facing a 14 day quarantine period on their return. Full details of the announcement is available here. The Foreign Office is also updating its travel advice for these locations from Saturday, 4th July. 

Adopting these measures to reduce restrictions while controlling the risks is an important step on our road to recovery, for the aviation sector especially, but also the country as a whole.

I know there has been worrying news on redundancies in the aviation sector and the wider economy. The best way to support the sector, and the thousands of jobs it supports, is to ensure the long term future of the industry. Today's announcement is a huge step to achieving that, however there is still much more to be done.

I will continue to engage with the industry and unions, push for international agreements on safety standards for air travel, a widening of travel corridors where appropriate, and work with colleagues in Parliament to look at what reforms may be needed in light of the changes to the sector following the crisis.


Update 19 June 2020

Many constituents have contacted me regarding Gavin Newlands MP’s private members bill, the Employment (Dismissal and Re-employment) Bill 2019-21.

The aim of his Bill is to ‘prohibit employers dismissing employees and subsequently re-employing them for the purpose of diminishing the terms and conditions of employment’.  This seems reasonable to me, as the crucial part here is that the dismissal is ‘for the purpose of’ diminishing terms and conditions of employment.  However, there are complexities around how this could be implemented given it relies on having to prove the intent of the employer, and to ensure there are no unintended adverse consequences.

Unfortunately the full legal text of the Bill has not been released yet.  Once it has been published I will be in a much better position to scrutinise it and propose amendments, if needed, to safeguard the intended purpose of the bill and ensure there are no unintended adverse consequences. The second reading of the Bill is scheduled for the 10th of July so I expect this will be released quite soon so that I can look into it further. I must point out though, that currently it is one of the last Bills scheduled to be read on the 10th of July, so it is very unlikely indeed that it will be debated, but I hope that nevertheless it will raise this important issue.


Update: 12 June 2020

I am delighted that there are already moves to set up air travel corridors to enable more people to travel to and from certain destinations without the need to quarantine. This is a positive step in the recovery of the aviation sector.

You will also be aware that there has been a call for a review of landing slot allocations following recent scrutiny of the airline industry. British airways currently holds 51% of the landing slots at Heathrow, partly through grandfathering rights as the UKs former flag carrier. It is clear to me with the significant flux in the sector the method of allocation of slots needs to be reviewed by the Civil Aviation Authority to ensure that allocation reflects the current changes and delivers fair and open competition within the market.

Many constituents have also contacted me regarding Gavin Newlands MP’s Bill which proposes to change employment law to prevent companies dismissing staff and subsequently re-hiring for the purpose of diminishing terms and conditions of employment. I am currently looking into this and will provide a further update next week.


Update: 3 June 2020

Today I raised questions with the Home Secretary and Aviation Minister regarding the proposed 14 day quarantine people for people travelling from abroad, I have called on the Home Secretary to move as quickly as possible to a precise and targeted approach based on science and international safety standards . The full question and Home Secretary's response is available here.

Given the impact of a 14 day quarantine period I have also called for sector specific support to protect jobs and businesses. The full question and Minister's response is available here.


Update: 28 May 2020

Latest campaign update issued. Please see full details here.


Update: 27 May 2020

Letter received from Willie Walsh  Chief Executive Officer of IAG. Please see a copy of the letter below.


Update: 22 May 2020

Today I held a teleconference meeting with the Airport Operators Association as part of ongoing industry engagement.


Update: 21 May 2020

Letter received from Alex Cruz, Chairman and CEO of British Airways. Please see a copy of the letter attached below. 

I will be writing back to Mr Cruz to strongly request he becomes available.


Update: 20 May 2020

Today I attended the Unite the Union Zoom teleconference meeting to discuss support for the aviation sector.

The transport Committee also today held two evidence sessions. The first heard evidence from Unite the Union, the British Air Line Pilots Association, and Swissport UK. The Second session heard evidence from Kelly Tolhurst MP, Minister for Transport, the Civil Aviation Authority and the Director of Aviation at the Department for Transport. To watch these sessions please see here


Update: 19 May 2020

Meeting with Tim Alderslade, CEO of Airlines UK, the Association of UK airlines.


Update: 15 May 2020

Following the Transport Committee's session earlier this week I too was unsatisfied with the answers given.  I have contacted Willie Walsh and Alex Cruz’s offices to arrange a meeting but have not had a response and I am chasing this.  Companies need to demonstrate corporate responsibility in the way they treat their staff, and BA is no exception to this.  I will be writing to the Unite the Union and BALPA to discuss this with them as well.


Update: 13 May 2020

Today I had a ‘virtual’ meeting with the aviation minister Kelly Tolhurst, to discuss the issues with the sector.  The Government has a range of support available for businesses to use, including carriers, and notably BA have taken advantage of the furlough scheme.  Yesterday the Chancellor announced that the Furlough scheme will be extended, and made more flexible, and it is my expectation that businesses will use this as needed to support their business and protect jobs.

I also raised the importance of international safety standards to get planes flying again, and the Department of Transport has set up an expert steering group where this is being considered.  International safety standards are key here.  I am arranging a meeting with the Foreign Secretary to raise this further.


Update: 12 May 2020

Today in Westminster I called on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to get planes flying again, in addition to providing direct support to those in the sector affected by the crisis. To view the question in Parliament please visit here.


Update: 11 May 2020

Today the Transport Select Committee heard evidence from Willie Walsh, CEO of International Airlines Group, as part of their inquiry into the impact of coronavirus on transport. The full transcript is available here


Update: 7 May 2020

The Transport Select Committee are holding an inquiry into the impact of Covid-19 on transport and will be hearing evidence from Mr. Willie Walsh, Chief Executive of International Airlines Group, parent company of British Airways on Monday 11th May, and trade unions and the aviation Minister on 20th May. 

Any concerned constituents or those affected directly by British Airways or aviation-related redundancies are invited to submit questions to the inquiry by emailing transcom@parliament.uk. For further information about the inquiry please visit https://committees.parliament.uk/work/221/coronavirus-implications-for-transport/


Attachment Size
Letter from Willie Walsh 81.55 KB
Letter from Alex Cruz 123.67 KB
Planned aviation debate speech 10 Sep 2020.docx 586.22 KB
Letter to Alex Cruz, CEO, British Airways 233 KB


Government Announces New UK Travel Corridors

The Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, has today announced details of new travel corridors, setting out countries British travellers will be allowed to visit without being subject to the 14 day quarantine on their return.

Aviation Campaign Continues

Dr Ben Spencer has today issued the following update regarding his ongoing Aviation Campaign:

Constituents Urged to Take Part in Transport Inquiry Into Aviation

Constituents affected by British Airways redundancies or other issues concerning the aviation sector are being urged to submit questions to the Transport Select Committee, as part of their ongoing inquiry into the implications of the pandemic for transport.