Although I do not live in the constituency in which Manchester Airport is based, I, like many other Cheshire residents, live on the flight path. During normal times, I can sit at my kitchen table and count the planes out in the morning and then count them back in in the afternoon. In fact, I have developed a bit of an unhealthy obsession. I open the app just to find out where those planes are going and, on many occasions, wish that I was going with them.
One thing that has really struck me over the past few weeks of the crisis is just how passionate people are about having a flagship northern airport on their doorstep. I do not just mean the plane spotters who we see queuing to get into the runway aviation park. People really do care about having on their doorstep somewhere from where they can reach out to the world. Manchester’s role as a northern hub airport, its position as the most used airport in the north, and the fact that it is the only airport outside London that has two full-length runways mean that it really does have a critical role for our northern economy, and we take real pride in that facility. It links us to 210 different destinations, more than any other UK gateway, and has direct links to 35 of our top 50 export markets. It really is fundamental to the northern powerhouse economy. No longer do we have to rely on the south to export and trade, and as somebody who worked with businesses across Europe and in Asia before coming to this place, I can say that there is nothing more frustrating than living next to Manchester airport and knowing that I have to drive to Stansted or Heathrow to get a flight just to jump across the channel.
Today, flights passing over my house have gone from hundreds to four or five a day, and most of those are domestic. That is at the heart of the issue for Manchester airport and the wider economy. Warrington’s close proximity means that families have moved there and have chosen to live there. The risk to our local economy and its recovery is significant because of that massive drop in passenger levels. The risk is to staff who work airside, crews, pilots, air traffic controllers, engineers and Border Force guards. All of them live in Warrington South, as well as other constituencies in the north-west of England. The supply chains, which feed and fuel the sector, are part of our local economy.
While this debate is not about British Airways, I share the hon. Gentleman’s views about the way that British Airways has handled many of the negotiations with its staff at an incredibly difficult time.
Restarting the aviation sector is a vital part of the UK’s economic recovery, for Warrington, for the northern powerhouse and for the UK, and I very much look forward to hearing from the Secretary of State for Transport when he announces plans to allow flights to resume shortly. Indeed, I was really pleased to hear him confirm this morning that he is looking at common health protocols to keep passengers safe. The Department for Transport, and in particular the Minister, deserves credit for the incredible efforts that they have taken to ensure that we can see a recovery in this sector. At the same time, during this health crisis it really is important that we ensure that countries where infection rates are high are regarded as high risk, and that people coming into this country from those locations self-isolate to make sure that we do not spread the disease further.
This is an industry that contributes billions of pounds to our local economy and supports thousands of jobs, and it is growing. The centrepiece of the £1 billion Manchester airport transformation programme, the extension of terminal 2, has been delayed—put on hold—because of what has happened over the past three months. It is an oven-ready project that has been privately funded, for world-class infrastructure that relies on a rapid and strong economy to enable it to deliver the economic benefits to the north and to level up. I am sure none of us in this House doubts that the economic situation facing the industry is anything less than critical, with passenger levels dropping to historic lows.
Restarting the aviation sector is a vital part of the UK’s economic recovery. Aviation, the facilities that it supports and the travel industry are crucial to the economic growth of the region, to the north, to the northern powerhouse and to Warrington, and I urge the Government to take full steps to ensure that we can grow our sector as much as possible.