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Leaving the EU: Aviation Sector — [Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 11:30 am on 31st October 2018.

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[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

Photo of Mike Kane Mike Kane Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools) 2:30 pm, 31st October 2018

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the effect on the aviation sector of the UK leaving the EU.

It is, as ever, a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. The focus of today’s debate is the aviation sector and the risks and opportunities that will be presented when we leave the EU. Aviation and the international connectivity it provides are one of the key drivers of trade, exports and tourism, bringing economic growth and prosperity to the UK.

To many people, an airport is a place they pass through on their way to and from a summer holiday, and an aircraft is simply a thing they board to go on a weekend away or a business trip. However, like many Members here today with airports in and around their constituencies, I know that aviation is about a lot more than that. It is a large, technical and complex industry, and the ease and regularity with which we use it often hides the expertise and investments that go into making it so safe, simple and affordable for all our constituents.

In my own constituency, the sector is a vital source of employment, with more than 25,000 jobs directly supported on the Manchester airport campus. Hundreds of businesses outside the airport work to supply it, sustaining thousands more jobs. Those benefits come from just one airport, and there are many more like it across the country. Imagine the headlines that would follow if a new business was brought to the UK with the promise of creating 25,000 jobs. Imagine the crisis headlines we would read if even a fraction of employment on that scale was suddenly lost.

Aviation is a key enabler of overseas trade. As an island nation, we rely on flight connectivity more than most as we strive to get British products on the shelves of markets around the world, or foreign goods on ours. In addition, as an economy with such a prominent services sector, being able to move British expertise around the world plays a major role in our overseas trade, and that role will only continue to grow.

It is well known that we as a nation need to export more and to ensure that British businesses are competing effectively on the world stage. It is clear that, for those businesses that export, travel and trade abroad, their international exploits are made a lot easier when they have access to direct air links to their chosen markets. Growing our access to those markets will be even more important after Brexit, as will ensuring that they can access the UK market. I am very proud to represent an airport that has the most point-to-point connections of any airport in the UK.

Tourists from all corners of the world flock to the UK to sample our countryside, our history and our cultural, sporting and other assets. In Manchester alone we are surrounded by the Peak district and the Lake district. We have the world’s most famous and successful football teams—some of my hon. Friends here today might argue about which is the most successful of the two. Manchester has an international cricket ground, fantastic universities and even the British Broadcasting Corporation.

As Britain leaves the EU, we need people from right across the globe to find it quick and easy to visit the UK to support our tourist economy. I am sure that colleagues from all parties in this House, regardless of their political background and how they voted in the EU referendum, would agree that it is critical that we continue to enjoy those benefits and that the choice available to our constituents today remains the same. That is critical to those who rely on tourism as their source of income, and it is critical to the businesses that the Government want to support—those that export and trade with the world.

I want to outline both the risks and the opportunities for the aviation sector as we edge closer to the EU exit door. The most fundamental of those is maintaining the connections that are utilised so much today. Some 74% of flights from Manchester airport go to other EU nations. The EU remains our biggest export market and the place where most Britons travel on holiday, with about two thirds of overseas holidaymakers going to Europe every year. It is clear that we have a mutual interest with the EU in a deal being done so that the doomsday scenario of planes being grounded on 29 March next year does not play out. I ask the Minister whether he can provide reassurance that aviation remains at the top of the list as negotiations continue, and that it will be prioritised quickly should no deal become a reality.

Lucy Chadwick, the director general of the Department for Transport, recently said to the Public Accounts Committee that air and rail services between Britain and the EU are an “area of growing concern.” The House of Lords EU Committee reported last year:

“There is no adequate ‘fall-back’
position for aviation services in the event that no agreement is reached with the EU. Air services are excluded from the WTO.”

That is worth repeating: there is no World Trade Organisation fall-back position for aviation when we exit the EU next year. Although airlines and airports are optimistic that a deal will be negotiated, there is a very real danger that planes will be unable to take off if we leave the EU without a deal. Can the Minister comment on that and, furthermore, describe the practical steps the Government are taking to secure the mutual recognition of aviation safety standards, which is currently provided for under the European Aviation Safety Agency system? This must be about not mitigating any risk to aviation, but actively supporting it after Brexit.

The opportunity is there for us to pull the levers we need to to further improve our links with the rest of the world and to edge ahead of our competitors. We have the chance now to think about the markets we want to access if we are serious about Britain competing on the world stage after Brexit. There is no better time to consider the kind of aviation sector we want and the role we want it to play in driving growth and prosperity, particularly in our regions. It is clear that those benefits need to be spread across the whole of the UK—not only by allowing people in the north to fly south, but by allowing people from all over our country to fly wherever they need to. That strategy goes hand in hand with defining what a post-Brexit Britain will look like.

Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care)

The hon. Gentleman talks about Brexit allowing a reorientation so that we can look at where else in the world UK airlines can fly to. Can he explain why we cannot do that now, and why we need to lose our flights to Europe to gain flights to elsewhere?

Photo of Mike Kane Mike Kane Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

We are doing that now at my own airport. I will be going to the inaugural flight from Manchester to Mumbai next week. We now have direct connectivity to Beijing and Hong Kong, and shortly we will announce direct connectivity to Shanghai as well. Airports are increasingly going from point to point, and that seems to be the way of the future.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Chair, Transport Committee

I wanted to come in at that point, because my hon. Friend is talking specifically about those connections between Manchester airport and China. I want to touch on air freight, because Manchester has seen a £300 million increase in air freight exports to China in the last two years. To have that thriving air freight sector requires further work to be done. Does he agree that the UK needs to be doing better, given that we are outside the top 10 on the air trade facilitation index and outside the top 20 for electronic freight processing?

Photo of Mike Kane Mike Kane Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

The Manchester Airports Group includes East Midlands airport, which is close to my hon. Friend’s constituency, and Stansted. East Midlands is a huge hub for freight leaving the UK, and has huge expansion potential. I am concerned that the Government are not ready to use the opportunity, as we leave the EU, to prepare the aviation sector for the next, crucial five to 10 years.

The welcome that we give to those who visit us is also part and parcel of creating a truly international Britain after Brexit. It is how we tell the world that we are open for business and how we encourage tourists to come to see us time and time again.

Lots of questions still need answering, and there is a risk that questions are not being answered in good time. I am sure we were all concerned by the recent National Audit Office report on our state of preparedness for a no-deal scenario. Airports across the country have repeatedly reported problems of under-resourcing, queues at the border and a total dissatisfaction with the targets that Border Force works to. The Government have continued to cut funding for Border Force, while passenger numbers have grown, so can we really expect a proper service at our borders? I hope the Minister will tell us what the Government are doing to work with airports and Border Force to put in place a realistic, long-term plan to ensure our borders are adequately resourced into the future.

Finally, as I said, the aviation sector is a huge employer in its own right, and millions more are employed in related industries, such as the visitor economy and the logistics sector, which my hon. Friend just mentioned. Across the country, tens of millions of EU nationals make a valuable contribution to those industries. Although I am hopeful that arrangements will be put in place to ensure that people can remain employed in those sectors, we need to think seriously about what happens post Brexit. We must ensure we have the skills and training to support and grow the aviation sector in the years ahead. We have the opportunity to get this right through the industrial strategy process to ensure that Britain is known around the globe for delivering world-class service and hospitality, as well as for having a slick, efficient transport system.

As I have outlined, aviation is an essential component of an outward-looking Britain. It must continue to play a pivotal role in our economy and our social and cultural future, but the question is, how will we harness that potential? How will we use the sector to drive growth through enhanced trade and investment in tourism? How, on a more basic level, will we ensure that consumers continue to enjoy the choices they enjoy today? If we are serious about creating a balanced and truly international Britain, we must prioritise this sector now, during and after our exit from the European Union.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

Order. The debate can last until 4 o’clock, and I am obliged to call the Front-Bench spokespeople no later than 3.28 pm. The guideline limits are 10 minutes for the Scottish National party, 10 minutes for Her Majesty’s Opposition and 10 minutes for the Minister, with Mr Kane having two or three minutes at the end to sum up the debate. Until 3.28 pm, it is Back-Bench time. The first Back-Bench contribution will come from Jim Shannon.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 2:43 pm, 31st October 2018

Thank you, Mr Hollobone. It is not often that I get called first, so I appreciate the opportunity. I congratulate Mike Kane on securing the debate, and I thank him for the cohesive way in which he put forward his point of view. His speech was constructive, and he looked forward with some positivity to our exit from the EU on 29 March next year.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this matter. In my constituency, I have Bombardier, which is involved in the production of planes, and Belfast City airport is not that far away, so domestic connectivity is very important to us. Lilian Greenwood referred to air freight. We have some of the largest air freight connections in the domestic market through Belfast International airport. It is surprising how much air freight goes through the airports of the United Kingdom, and Northern Ireland in particular.

I hope I will be able to bring a bit more positivity to the debate. Of course, the ongoing Brexit negotiations are complex and difficult, but leaving the EU was never going to be quick and simple. If only that were the case. It will not come as a surprise to hon. Members that I think Brexit is a fantastic opportunity, including for our aviation sector, and I hope to expand on that point of view.

Although hon. Members have different points of view about Brexit, we are united by the need to have a thriving aviation sector in the UK after we leave the EU. I believe that it will thrive. The hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East put forward that view very eloquently, and I support that.

The UK has the second largest aerospace sector in the world, behind that of the United States, and the largest in Europe. We must not underestimate the importance of our aviation sector to the EU or the importance of the EU’s sector to the UK. We both need each other. I often say in this House that we are better together. In this case, we are parting, but there is no reason why we should not be able to work together.

It is in both our interests to secure the best deal to allow the liberalisation of air transport to continue. The UK is currently a member of the European common aviation area, which allows registered airlines to have a base in one member state and operate on a cabotage basis—to use the terminology that they use—in other member states. It is an arrangement that works well.

The latest European Council negotiating guidelines aim to maintain connectivity between the UK and the EU through an air transport agreement. The Minister will respond to this debate in some detail, and we look forward to his comments. Naturally, at this stage it is unclear what that agreement might be. It might involve an open skies arrangement like the one the UK currently has with the US, or it might involve negotiating a single bilateral agreement with the EU as a whole, if member states give it a mandate to negotiate on their behalf.

Given the value of the industry to the United Kingdom and the EU, I am confident that we will get a good deal for our aviation sector and for future air travel between the UK and the EU. We need each other to succeed in this sector. London remains the world’s best connected and most attractive destination.

Although it is a while off, and there are hurdles to overcome, the third runway at Heathrow should be an even greater draw to London. It will improve our connectivity across Europe and with the rest of the world. My party and I fully support the third runway at Heathrow, and we would like to see it happen sooner rather than later.

In 2016, the chief executive of the Civil Aviation Authority said that the UK is a key player in aviation, and he was not wrong. We have the third best developed aviation network in the world, just behind the US and China. The figures show why the UK is such a vital player in the sector. It is not surprising that some airlines are already applying for licences to operate in the UK in the event of no deal. I suggest that that shows the confidence that people outside the United Kingdom have in the UK’s aviation sector. Although I am confident that we will secure a good deal—it has always been my intention that we will, and hopefully the Prime Minister will be successful in that—it is good that airlines are preparing for any eventuality. It is also welcome that, despite people’s warnings, airlines have every intention of continuing to fly to and from the UK. Life will not end when we leave the EU on 29 March. Indeed, it will get better. That has got to be good.

As well as liberalisation, we should also consider our membership of the European Aviation Safety Agency, which develops common safety and environmental rules at the European level. The Government have explicitly stated that they want to negotiate some sort of ongoing membership of EASA after Brexit, and there is widespread agreement that continued membership would benefit both the UK and the EU.

In a speech in 2016, Andrew Haines highlighted that the UK and France provide two thirds of the rule-making input on European safety regulation, and that together we undertake close to 90% of EASA’s outsourced activities. Again, that indicates EASA’s importance to the United Kingdom. Mr Haines set out four principles for the UK to consider during the Brexit negotiations. The third principle, which relates to competition, could present a real opportunity for the UK post Brexit. It relates to airline ownership rules, which are currently very outdated. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that. If the UK relaxed the ownership arrangements that UK-registered airlines currently have to comply with, that could present an opportunity to attract new equity from non-EU investors, which could improve choice and competitiveness for consumers.

Haines also referred to the EU slot regime, which requires that 50% of new slots are allocated to new competitors at a particular airport. I believe, however, that restricting such a large proportion to new entrants has been a barrier to strong competition, and changing our rules could be one advantage of leaving. That shows a lack of future planning from the EU, which could be to our benefit. The UK will have the opportunity to develop a new and more competitive slot regime—there are enormous possibilities.

As negotiations continue, there will be difficulties and we must plan for every eventuality, but it is also important to see the potential opportunities that Brexit could bring to the industry, especially regarding competition, which can drive prices down and keep air fares low. We should also consider the way that the industry has responded to date; according to ADS Group’s 2017 figures, the sector directly employed 120,000 people, with a further 118,000 employed indirectly—enormous employment figures. In 2017, the sector had a turnover of £31.8 billion, which was up 39% in five years. If a sector is growing, and probably outgrowing every other sector, it is the aviation sector of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

While productivity growth in the general economy between 2010 and 2016 was just 3%, it was 19% in the aviation industry. Not only that, but so far, the UK's decision to leave the EU appears to have had no financial impact on the industry, which is perhaps another positive indication of where we are. In fact, according to ADS Group’s 2017 figures, 73% of companies were planning to increase investment—an indication of their confidence in the future. In Northern Ireland, Bombardier secured a deal in May this year with the Latvian carrier airBaltic, for up to 60 Belfast-made jets, which is another indication of how well our aviation sector is doing and how it benefits all regions of the United Kingdom.

Of course, airlines are concerned and, given the uncertainty, that is not surprising. It is important to consider the value of the sector to the UK and to the EU; to realise that Brexit can provide positive change and opportunity for the UK; and to realise that little has changed since the referendum. Moreover, aerospace is an important part of the Government’s industrial strategy: a number of initiatives have been set up to boost research and investment, and to guarantee exports. The Aerospace Growth Partnership and the Aerospace Technology Institute have both been set up in recent years as a collaboration between Government and the industry, to build on past success and look forward to the future success.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Chair, Transport Committee

Like the hon. Gentleman, I am very concerned about the implications of leaving the European Union for our aerospace sector. The chief executive of Airbus said that there will be “severe negative consequences” to withdrawing from the European Union, and that they will be particularly severe if there is a hard or no deal Brexit. Does he agree that it is essential that the Government address those issues to protect high-skilled and high-paid engineering jobs in our aerospace industry?

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank the hon. Lady, but for the record, I do not share her concerns about leaving the EU in relation to the aviation sector. Maybe I did not make that clear enough, so let me make it quite clear: I believe that we should look forward to a very positive future. That has been demonstrated in my own constituency, where Bombardier have secured a fairly substantial and significant contract, and by aviation authorities and the airlines, which have indicated their confidence in the direction of the country over the last five years. It has been a fact that we are going to leave the EU for a year and a half of that time, and that has not slowed the industry. Government’s central theme of support, focus and strategy for the aviation sector indicates to me that good times are just around the corner. Hopefully, after 29 March 2019, the good times will come back, and those who have doubts about that just have to look at how the aviation sector is growing in anticipation. I put on record that I hope that the Prime Minister secures a deal for the UK, but in the event that she does not, the aviation authorities are well aware of their options in that scenario.

Photo of David Simpson David Simpson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

I sincerely apologise for being late, Mr Hollobone; I had another meeting. Does my hon. Friend agree that if we can get the Government to look at air passenger duty, we would see a significant change in the aviation industry? In the Republic of Ireland, numbers have soared above 13 million passengers because the air passenger duty has been abolished. If that could be achieved in the UK, we might see even better days within the aviation industry.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank my hon. Friend and colleague for his intervention. I am glad that he has reminded me to mention air passenger duty. We feel that abolishing APD would benefit Northern Ireland, as well the rest of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and that we would gain from that collectively. In the Republic of Ireland—Northern Ireland’s next door neighbour—Dublin airport has grown in leaps and bounds because it is more competitive. I have highlighted the different advantages of competition, which we need to drive prices down and drive the numbers up, and we will soon have that opportunity.

Brexit is a once in a lifetime opportunity and a chance to reduce unnecessary regulation and red tape, both in aviation and across other sectors. It is also an opportunity to continue working closely with our EU counterparts—we have to—to ensure that safety and environmental standards are met and continue to improve, which is to everyone’s advantage. I am interested to hear what the Minister has to say about that, and I look forward to his comments, as well as those of the shadow Minister.

Given the global nature of the airline industry and the need to be connected to one another, I am confident that a good deal will be secured; one that is in the interests of both the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of the EU. There are many sectors where close co-operation and mutual interest will play a role, but none more so than aviation and aerospace.

Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care) 2:57 pm, 31st October 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. As hon. Members have mentioned, Brexit is five months away, and aviation is not covered by World Trade Organisation rules and is not usually covered in other free trade agreements. The idea that we can replace the European common aviation area easily is not true.

The single aviation market has transformed flight for ordinary punters. Most people in the Chamber will know that my husband is German, and when we first started our four-year long-distance romance, it cost £220 to fly from London to Hanover. Now, people can fly all over the place, often for less than £50 each way, which has transformed how much we fly. We have seen a huge rise in connectivity across Europe, in people travelling in both directions and, in particular, in people flying. That is because airlines registered in the EU can fly domestically in another country or between two third countries, which allowed them to drop prices—[Interruption.] I apologise; Jim Shannon is trying to throw me off.

As we know, easyJet has registered in Austria to try to get around the fact that it is a UK airline and might have difficulties flying within Europe’s single aviation market. The airline that flies to Glasgow Prestwick—the airport in my constituency—is Ryanair, an Irish-EU airline, and may be forced to consider registering in the UK. The problem is that it would then be a part-UK, part-EU airline. That does not replace what we have at the moment; it avoids triangular flying. Very few routes just shuttle backwards and forwards; often, we hear that the plane we are boarding has just come from somewhere else.

This issue is critical for my local airport. Prestwick is a major airport: we have 50% of the Scottish aerospace industry and a huge cargo industry. Although our passenger numbers have dwindled, they are still a significant proportion of our income. In particular, they represent the main part of Ryanair’s flights to the Iberian peninsula. The problem is that in recent years we have had no strategic plan for regional airports across the nations and regions of the UK, and, obviously, we have had air passenger duty. The hon. Member for Strangford talked about competing with the Republic of Ireland where they have not just got rid of air passenger duty but have dropped tourism valued added tax to 9%. If people in Europe or America decide whether they fancy the mountains of Scotland or the mountains of Ireland, unfortunately one is much more expensive than the other.

Things can be done in UK policy to try to support our network of airports, but Brexit clauses are already creeping into airline bookings. Already, tourists are holding off because they are not sure what will happen. The International Air Transport Association said that the Brexit deadline might be next March, but tourists book six months to a year in advance. For airlines the deadline is in October 2018 right now, but they have no idea what the landscape will look like.

My constituency is also a major tourist part of the country, where golf is a significant attraction in beautiful rolling countryside on the west coast of Scotland. We think often about the outward-bound tourists—and that is us when we go on our holidays. Three quarters of visits from the UK are to the EU, and EU passengers make up half of all passengers who fly backwards and forwards. Nine out of 10 of the flight destination top 10 are in the EU, the US being the only non-EU country in the top 10. However, inward-bound tourists are more important because they do not just generate a bit of duty-free and the price of a flight but stay in hotels, eat out and go to pubs and to the theatre. That is a major part of the tourism industry—I use that term advisedly because tourism is often overlooked as an industry, but in the more rural parts of the United Kingdom, tourism often is the main industry. If we are not attracting people because it is harder to get here, flight numbers are decreasing or APD puts people off, that will lead to huge shockwaves right through our local economies.

Another part of the significant work in Prestwick is maintenance, repair and overhaul work. Multiple companies perform that work, including for Ryanair. If Ryanair decides not to fly to Prestwick, we would not only lose that passenger income—Ryanair will not fly there just to get its MRO work done if it no longer brings planes through. It is critical that we stay in the European Aviation Safety Agency, because the companies that carry out MRO work do so under EASA part-145 that allows them to release a plane as safe to fly in the EU. Their engineers are licensed under part-66; they could go off and license themselves in the national aviation agency of another country, but the company cannot do that. We are talking about companies that could do MRO work only for United Kingdom airlines but not for European airlines. That would take away an enormous swathe of MRO work.

We have companies such as Chevron or GTSMRO that are local, home-grown companies in Ayrshire, but we also have major multinationals such as UTC Aerospace Systems, Goodrich Corporation, Woodward, BAE Systems and more. As Lilian Greenwood mentioned, they generate high-quality, high-paid engineering jobs—not something that can be easily replaced. We have companies in our aerospace cluster that manufacture parts for planes, such as Spirit AeroSystems, which make the leading edges for Airbus wings.

If the aviation industry starts to shrink, inevitably that will have a follow-on impact on MRO work and manufacturing work. Those are really good jobs. With the clock ticking down to Brexit, we are already getting past the aviation deadline. It is important that we start to get some vision from the Government of their plan with regard to the EU, the single aviation market and staying in EASA, and of what they plan to do to support airlines in the UK, tourism and our regional airports.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water) 3:05 pm, 31st October 2018

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mike Kane on this timely debate. It is only a shame that there are not more Members here to listen to the good contributions being made. Let me put on the record that before being elected, I was proud to work in aviation for ABTA for many years, working with large tour operators, airlines and airports. I am also vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on general aviation, which looks after airfields and small airports very proudly.

Brexit is a testing time for all parts of our economy. Whether hon. Members think Brexit is the best thing since sliced bread or a national disaster, we can all agree that the uncertainty created by Brexit is bad for business and bad for our country. For aviation, in particular, uncertainty is eating away at confidence in the investment and business decisions that are vital to its continued success in the UK. In that spirit, I hope my remarks will create some more clarity on Brexit and aviation.

If we are to mitigate the impacts of Brexit—or maximise the opportunities, depending on the side of the debate—we must look at the detail of aviation. How does it work, how are people employed, how are planes maintained—we just heard about that—and flown, and how will business investment continue? That requires an understanding of the detail of international agreements, but that involves a level of detail I have not really seen since I was elected to this place. Parliament is unaccustomed to dealing with that level of detail at scale, so I welcome this debate as a chance to get stuck in.

Sadly, my time with Lilian Greenwood on the Transport Committee has just come to an end. When I left, I said I would continue to talk about transport and aviation, and I regard this speech as continuing that promise. It is worth talking about aviation in the UK because it is a global success story. We are really good at it, and we need to maintain that success. We have the largest aviation sector in the EU and the third largest in the world after the United States and China. We have direct connections to more than 370 international destinations, and more than 284 million passengers passed through a UK airport in 2017—a record number. Whether people are flying for business, for leisure or to visit friends and relatives, they all make a contribution to our economy. We must recognise that we get benefit from people not only flying in but flying out.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Chair, Transport Committee

My hon. Friend made a great contribution to the Transport Committee. He will remember that the Committee was told repeatedly by the Transport Secretary that he is optimistic about a deal with the European Union on air transport. He told Parliament in November 2016 that he was

“absolutely in no doubt that we would secure in good time and effectively the agreements that our aviation sector needs”.—[Official Report, 23 November 2016;
Vol. 617, c. 953.]

We are now five months away from the exit, and we still do not know what it means for our access to the European common aviation area or international agreements such as the open skies to the US; how it will affect our nine freedoms to fly and air traffic control, including our participation in the Single European Sky regime; and whether the UK will remain part of the UK-Ireland functional airspace block. Do those questions not need answering now?

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water)

I share my hon. Friend’s concerns. We need certainty about what is going on, and we need to ensure that we hear the authentic voice of British business. The Government’s use of non-disclosure agreements in some of the discussions taking place between them and industry about certain aspects, especially no-deal preparations, concerns me. We are not getting the clarity that need from Ministers and, unfortunately, the hands of business have been tied by NDAs, preventing them from exploring how the worst effects of no-deal can be dealt with.

I share some of the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East about planes being grounded, but I want to deal with a couple of other aspects of EASA membership. Our debate in Parliament to date has focused on the safety role of EASA, but our participation in EASA is about more than safety certification and standards, although they are important. We also need to deal with pilot registration and engineering standards and qualifications. I want the UK to remain part of EASA. I simply cannot believe that any competent British Government would sanction our departure from that vital body.

The UK’s expertise makes an important contribution to EASA, with 40% of its staff coming from the UK. The UK also participates in nearly every single technical programme to facilitate the movement of both passengers and cargo. In our future relationship with EASA, which I hope is as a full member, we must maintain full participation, especially in EASA’s technical working groups, to get the detail of what is going on. EASA is not a body where we have no influence. Britain’s hard and soft power in EASA is strong. A third of EASA regulations come directly from the UK’s CAA, so we have a strong voice in that body and we need to maintain it.

The issue of CAA pilots’ licences was raised with me by pilots ahead of this debate. Currently, CAA pilots’ licences, gained at considerable cost to the individual, are recognised throughout Europe, and European licences are recognised in the UK. After Brexit, unless a provision can be made, all pilots flying in the UK will need a full CAA UK licence, and not necessarily an EASA one that is recognised in the rest of the EU. At present, pilots are swapping their EASA licences for UK licences to enable them to fly UK planes in UK airspace, but there is a considerable backlog in processing applications. Will the Minister tell us what the current waiting time is for processing the transfers of EASA licences to CAA licences? What plans does he have to reduce that considerable waiting list, and what guidance is given to the CAA on prioritising pilot licences for commercial flyers, perhaps ahead of leisure pilots, who might be less time-dependent? At the moment, they go into a single queue and are not prioritised.

Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care)

I would be grateful for clarification. If pilots are changing their EASA licences for CAA licences, would that not limit their ability to fly within Europe?

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water)

Indeed. We need to recognise that, and that is why the full participation of the UK in EASA is vital. There is no point having a UK-only licence enabling flights within UK airspace, because the vast majority of flights from UK airports leave UK airspace. We therefore need those licences recognised at the point of destination and at the point of departure as well.

Will the Minister look at what actions can be taken to speed up the processing? Pilots need to carry their licences every time they fly, and when they do not have their licences they are grounded. Delays of six weeks are not uncommon. That is important because groundings of over a month trigger a requirement for additional time in flight simulators to ensure compliance with safety standards, and rightly so. However, that means the flight simulators are not being used for pilot training, and we know that we have a shortage of pilots not only in the UK, but around the world. That puts pressure on UK airlines when ensuring that they have a sufficient number of pilots to fly the aircraft that we need them to.

There are also concerns around engineering licences because EASA looks after the qualifications and certification of engineers as well as pilots. If UK engineers are no longer allowed to work on EU planes, as was hinted at in the technical notices that came out, it is deeply concerning. As we have already heard from Dr Whitford, the UK is a hub for not only aviation but aviation maintenance and support. Those jobs are not done only at London’s big airports; they are done mainly in our regions and nations, bringing much needed high-skilled jobs into those localities. In the far south-west, Flybe has an excellent facility at Exeter airport, providing a good number of decent, well-paid jobs, recruiting from the local area and training people for a career in aviation that will, in theory, do them well. If UK engineers are prohibited from maintaining EU aircraft, how will such jobs be protected in future? A key part of keeping costs down in the UK is bringing foreign planes into UK airports; maintenance costs are subsidised by ensuring that, when there is space in the schedule, foreign planes can be maintained as well. If there is no authorisation to do so because we sit outside EASA, it has serious implications for the future of our industry.

Creating certainty is key, and the upcoming aviation strategy is an opportunity to create that certainty. Far too much of our aviation debate to date has been focused purely on London Heathrow. Although it is a very important airport for not only London but for the rest of the country, including Plymouth, we need to make sure that the future aviation strategy deals with airports big and small, in every region of the country, and creates more certainty. Ministers need to do more than just put out a bold statement. They can do more in several areas to create more certainty. It is about accelerating what, in many cases, the Government have already planned.

The confirmation that Five Eyes countries will be able to use e-gates was a welcome step, but what is not clear is when they will be able to use them. It needs to happen before 29 March next year. Confirmation that that will be brought in ahead of that Brexit departure date and not afterwards is important for airlines and airports.

We need to look again at our funding for the border. The queues are too long. If we are to have a comprehensive and positive welcome to Britain, at a time when there is increased uncertainty not only in the UK but among our international trading partners, we need to make sure that people are not queuing at the border. Additional investment in Border Force, and particularly its staff, is absolutely vital.

We also need Ministers to recognise that the flight is only one part of the customer journey. That is really important. People do not simply magic up at an airport and then disappear when they land. They have a journey to get to an airport, which is why surface connectivity is so vital and needs to be looked at. What are the opportunities that can be maximised by Brexit, and how can the impact be mitigated? Projects have been promised for some time, such as western rail access to Heathrow, and we need to accelerate that programme. Will the Minister set out when the timetable for funding western rail access will be delivered?

We also need the Government to look at regional connectivity to airports. Some have good connectivity in our regions, but others less so. At Exeter, Plymouth’s local airport, we have a bus to the city centre only once every hour, which is not good enough. Supporting regional economies is vital.

The review of APD has already been mentioned. It could be a big boost to the UK economy. We need to bring forward the airspace review that Ministers have been considering for some time. We need certainty about how airspace will operate in future. The creation of flight paths that make it better and easier for airlines to invest in and fly from the UK could bring considerable benefits.

We also need to make sure that aviation is greener. Will the Minister set an objective for the UK to be the greenest and most sustainable aviation market in the world? That means really motoring the work of Sustainable Aviation, the industry-led body, to look at how improvements can be brought in.

Finally, will the Minister look at removing uncertainty by reopening Plymouth airport? This has been absent from most people’s speeches so far, which surprises me. Plymouth airport, which closed in 2010, could make a big contribution to the future economy of my city, and also help provide the certainty for businesses to invest in the region as well. Plymouth airport was not a bucket-and-spade airport; it was an airport built on senior-level connectivity and high-value investors. It provided connectivity for our marine, maritime, oil and gas, and science industries. We need to preserve that. The loss of the airport has been detrimental to Plymouth. There are other forms of connectivity, but the train has to get through Dawlish, and we know that the impact of the hanging bridge, when the line was washed away, affected business confidence in terms of investing in the west country.

In conclusion, the more the Government can bring certainty to the aviation debate around Brexit, the better. In many cases, the tools are already sitting with Ministers. We need to be able to commit to full participation in EASA and to deal with the uncertainty around pilots’ licences and engineers’ certifications. We should also bring forward projects for aviation investment that can make a real difference in making journeys smoother, quicker and greener.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy) 3:19 pm, 31st October 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr Hollobone. I want, like other hon. Members, to congratulate Mike Kane on bringing forward the debate. The opportunity is timely, given the ticking of the clock towards Brexit day. The hon. Gentleman was right to highlight the aviation industry’s skills, and its scale—the fact that it supports thousands of jobs, as well as exports, imports, businesses across the entire UK, and of course inward and outward tourism. He went on to highlight the risks and opportunities, and I found some parts of what he said easier to agree with than others.

Unfortunately I agreed with the negative points, rather than the positive ones. As to risks, the hon. Gentleman was right to highlight the risk to connectivity. There is clearly such a risk, and the UK Government are now beginning to acknowledge that. He highlighted how critical the EU is for Manchester airport’s connectivity, citing the figure of 74% of its flights. With respect to connectivity risks and day-to-day operations, he mentioned evidence to the Public Accounts Committee that air and rail services between Britain and the EU are an “area of growing concern.” That point was recently echoed by Michael O’Leary of Ryanair, who last month stated industry concerns about the implications of no deal, and the lack of preparation for that. Along with my hon. Friend Dr Whitford, the hon. Gentleman was correct that the WTO is not an option; that is not an alternative that is compliant with the aviation sector. The UK Government need to get their act together.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Sport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Department for Transport has been telling the aviation industry since the Brexit vote that it will be all right on the night? I warned the Airport Operators Association and others that, while that might be the case, there was no justification for that confidence. Does my hon. Friend agree with the EASA and Civil Aviation Authority employees I spoke to a few months ago, who think that there is a huge risk that the UK Government are sleepwalking into an aviation crisis, and that it is time we in this place, and the industry, made a lot more noise about it?

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy)

I completely agree. The UK Government’s attitude is completely blasé and lackadaisical.

The hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East, in discussing opportunities, spoke about future markets, but I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire, who intervened on him to say we do not need Brexit for those opportunities. The whole growth of the airline industry is the result of our membership of the EU, so it is hard to see what opportunities there are. The hon. Gentleman spoke of aviation as an essential component of an outward-looking Britain, but unfortunately that is not the message that people from outwith the UK get at the moment. Britain is becoming too inward-looking, rather than being outward-looking. However, I agree with the sentiments of the hon. Gentleman’s “how” questions to the Minister, and I should like to hear the response.

Clearly, no Westminster Hall debate would be complete without a contribution from Jim Shannon. He certainly knows how to maximise the lack of a time limit; he used all his experience there. It was good to hear him talk about the importance of Bombardier to his constituency, but it reminded me of the games that can be played in trade negotiations, and protectionism such as the recent carry-on in the US. I am glad that that has been resolved, and it was good to hear about the new order for 60 planes to go to Latvia. I wish them well with the opportunities and jobs that it will bring.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about bringing positivity, but then even he had to admit that Brexit is not a quick and easy process, so I find it hard to believe in the opportunities that will suddenly arise the day after Brexit. I agree with him about the opportunities that the third runway at Heathrow would bring, but I hope he shares my concern at the fact that the UK Government have not confirmed how they will provide protection to domestic slots that are supposed to open with the expansion.

My hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire confirmed that the single aviation market is what has transformed travel in the UK and within the EU, with the connectivity and opportunities it has brought. However, Brexit now brings risks to companies such as Ryanair, which is so important to her local airport, Prestwick. She highlighted the fact that those companies operate using the freedoms of the European common aviation area, and the registration issues that will arise post-Brexit.

Finally, Luke Pollard correctly highlighted issues to do with EASA—that it is not just a matter of safety. He pointed out the standards that it imposes for pilot registration, and consequent issues relating to conversion to the CAA and a bilateral agreement. We need to know the Government’s plans as to membership of EASA.

It is clear that from the perspective of Tory Back-Bench Members the future of the aviation seems not to be of much concern. It is surprising that those Benches are empty.

As the clock ticks towards Brexit, the UK Government’s handling of the aviation sector sums up their shambolic approach, including the attitude of the Secretary of State for Transport, who is an arch-Brexiteer and has the blasé attitude that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North said, “It will be all right on the night; everything will be okay.” I am speaking of a Secretary of State who does not know how the US-Canada border works for lorry crossings, and who seems still not to accept Brexit’s implications for the Ireland-Northern Ireland border. He is someone who goes along with the mantra “They need us more than we need them,” and the assertion “You know what—Spain needs flights, and the tourists who come from the UK, or their economy will crash.” That level of arrogance is not enough to get over the finishing line, which will need hard thinking, hard negotiations and a willingness to compromise.

Let us consider the promises on an aviation deal, to date. In November 2016, in a debate on Brexit, the Transport Secretary said he was

“in absolutely no doubt that we will secure in good time and effectively the agreements that our aviation sector needs to continue to fly around the world”.—[Official Report, 23 November 2016;
Vol. 617, c. 953.]

In October 2017 he told the Transport Committee:

“I am absolutely certain that over the coming months we will have mutual sensible arrangements put in place”.

On the open skies agreement with the US, another EU benefit, he said in October 2016 that his

“expectation and my intention would be that we retain the open skies arrangement for the United States.”

In March 2018, after media reports that the US would offer only its standard bilateral agreement, those claims were rebutted. We heard from Nick Calio, the chief executive of Airlines for America, who said:

“In terms of the timetable, we hope something will be in place as early as the end of the month or the beginning of April.”

There we are. Two years on from initial claims of how easily and imminently those definite agreements would be reached, I ask the Minister where they are. Yesterday in an article in The Guardian we learned that with five months to go the Secretary of State for Transport admits that negotiations on an aviation agreement have not even started. What does the Minister say about that? It is truly shameful, if it is true.

It is now five months to Brexit day. As my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire said, airlines are now selling seats with disclaimers for post-Brexit issues. Clearly, people are being put off from making bookings beyond Brexit. It is a fact that lack of certainty is curbing airline expansion and the opening of new routes in the EU, with respect to the UK. If an EU airline has a choice of a new destination, it will clearly choose the internal EU market over the UK. That will be a simple business decision to make.

The UK Government have clearly been operating on the premise that there is no way the EU will allow flights to be grounded, because of the inconvenience that that would cause EU citizens and airlines. I agree that it seems inconceivable; but it also now seems to be a real possibility, and our only method of overcoming it seems to be to kick it into the long grass of a transition period. It is clear that the proper preparations for no deal are not in place. There will be some sort of fudge. It will be kicked down the road and not be dealt with properly. Why do not the UK Government look at staying in a customs union, the single market and the single aviation market? It just makes sense.

We have heard that the UK Government have been making contingency plans for no deal. They, too, have warned about the risk of planes being grounded. However, the advice about the no deal technical notice for aviation seems to be that each airline is to negotiate directly with the relevant authority in each country that it wants to fly to, and must get approval from EASA, with the slight caveat added that at present there is no process enabling individual airlines to do that. What kind of no deal preparations are those? It is saying to the airlines, “It is over to you lot, because we don’t know what to do.”

Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care)

Does my hon. Friend recognise that the open skies agreement is not just with America, but also with 16 other countries, and that those agreements would also fall?

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy)

Absolutely, and that highlights the absolute chaos there would be if there is genuinely no deal and no arrangements are in place to fly to those countries.

The no deal preparations confirm the UK Government’s incompetence, lack of direction and inability to manage this process. Will the Minister say what contingency plans have gone into border control? We have already heard that UK Border Agency currently fails to meet its waiting time targets, so what are the proposals for increased personnel and preventing queues at the border? What plans have been made for customs checks? I accept that airports are probably more suited to deal with the implications of no deal than the ports currently are, but we still need to know about the Government’s plans, discussions and dialogues with airlines. I look forward to getting some clarity from the Minister. It would also be ideal to hear directly from the aviation Minister, but—this kind of sums up this place—the aviation Minister is in the other place, so MPs do not get to scrutinise and interrogate her properly.

Photo of Karl Turner Karl Turner Shadow Minister (Transport) 3:31 pm, 31st October 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Mike Kane for securing this important and timely debate. His excellent speech set out the current and future benefits of the aviation sector, as well as the possible risks. He said that more than 25,000 jobs—a staggering number—are directly supported by the Manchester Airport campus in his constituency. That is remarkable, and I pay tribute to Manchester Airports Group for its great work.

Labour believes that a strong aviation sector is crucial to the UK’s status as a global, outward looking nation, and it is even more important following our decision to leave the European Union. As we have heard, Britain has the largest aviation network in Europe and the third largest in the world. It creates a million jobs, brings in tax revenues, and is vital for importing and exporting trade.

We are now just five months away from leaving the EU, and as the days pass, the risk of a no deal Brexit becomes greater. Regrettably, it seems to be becoming more likely by the day that we might leave the European Union without a deal. Let us be clear: a no deal Brexit would be a disaster for the UK aviation sector—indeed, the Government’s aviation technical notices relating to no deal confirmed that crashing out of the EU without a deal would be a total disaster for the UK’s aviation sector. It would have a serious impact, and that cannot be dismissed as scaremongering. It is crucial that the Government now prioritise securing a deal for the aviation sector, and provide the industry with the certainty it needs in the run-up to March 2019 and beyond.

Labour has always maintained that the aviation sector should have been the first priority for the Government in their negotiations with the EU. Despite that, when the Transport Secretary addressed the annual conference of the Airport Operators Association on Monday, we heard that the Government are still negotiating future arrangements for air services with the EU. Indeed, it is worse than that because, as I understand it, the Transport Secretary has not had a single meeting with one of his counterparts from the 27 European member states to discuss what would happen if we are in no-deal territory.

Ministers might like to boast that 95% of the Brexit withdrawal agreement is done, but that is completely irrelevant as there can be no agreement unless everything is agreed—a point reiterated time and again by the Prime Minister—and that includes reaching a suitable agreement on aviation. Consumers and businesses have benefited from the UK’s global connectivity and access to markets, and the Government must build on that as we leave the EU. I would be grateful if the Minister could set out what steps the Government are taking to improve our global connectivity through aviation, post-Brexit.

Labour believes that any new service agreements for the aviation industry following Brexit should seek to replicate existing arrangements as much as possible. First, and foremost, we must retain access to the Single European Sky air traffic management system. Since 2007 we have enjoyed an open skies agreement with the United States of America which, as Dr Whitford made clear, includes 16 other countries. That must also continue.

Through our membership of the EU we are members of the European single aviation market, which allows airlines based in Britain to operate throughout Europe. There is no World Trade Organisation fall-back for the aviation sector, which means that unless the Government negotiate a deal there will be no legal right to operate flights to Europe. It is no good saying continually that everything will be all right on the night. The sector is worried, and it is crucial that we retain our status as a full and engaged member of the European Aviation Safety Agency. Alongside France we have been a key contributor to the development of European safety regulations and rulemaking, and nobody wants the UK to lose that influence. UK air passenger rights following Brexit should not be fewer than they currently are, and that is particularly important for disabled travellers and passengers with reduced mobility.

The entire aviation sector in the UK has developed through EU law, and it has led to cheaper fares and greater choice for consumers. Our current deal has given us greater consumer rights, and passengers can claim compensation for delayed and cancelled flights. We are members of the European Aviation Safety Agency, which deals with the safe operation of aviation. All that could easily be put at risk if we leave the EU without a deal. Will the Minister say what steps the Government are taking to ensure that we will have the same air passenger rights once we have left the European Union? Overall, the Government’s shambolic handling of the Brexit negotiations could lead to thousands of skilled jobs being lost in the aviation sector unless they change tack and get a grip now.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

If the Minister could conclude his remarks no later than 3.57 pm, that will allow Mr Kane time to sum up the debate.

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 3:37 pm, 31st October 2018

I am grateful to you, Mr Hollobone, and rejoice in your chairmanship of this debate. I am also grateful to Mike Kane—an old and much-loved colleague of mine from the Treasury Committee—for securing this important debate on the effect of the UK leaving the EU on the aviation sector.

I need hardly say that this is a matter of great importance to the Government, and a topic on which there is a keen focus on achieving our desired outcome. The hon. Gentleman asked for reassurance, and I can tell him that aviation remains a high priority for the Government, just as it is for him. I point out to him and to Alan Brown that this country is far from not having an outward-looking industry—nothing could be further from the truth. We are proud of the aerospace companies. We know that, like all global businesses, they constantly have to manage change in their political circumstances, and we are pleased that there has been no shortage of capital investment in the UK.

Jim Shannon is no longer in his place, but as he said, not only has there been new investment such as that in Bombardier but, as he put it, we can expect good times to be around the corner, based on the economic flows that he has observed. He is right about that, and we have projects such as the joint investment with the MOD and RAF Lossiemouth, and the Airbus Wing Integration Centre in Filton—my hon. Friend Jack Lopresti has worked closely on that, alongside his other work with Airbus—and the opening of Boeing’s first European manufacturing facility in Sheffield. Those are not the actions of companies that are worried about the UK, or about the safety of their investment and the possibility of it growing in the aviation sector—far from it—nor are they the actions of companies that are concerned that the UK might be, as the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun suggested, turning in on itself. On the contrary, they show that the aviation industry is confident about Britain’s place in the world post-Brexit, and rightly so.

This is a priority for us and, as the Government’s White Paper sets out, we are seeking to secure an agreement that maintains reciprocal and liberalised—I emphasise the word liberalised—aviation access between and within the territory of the UK and the EU, alongside UK participation in the EASA system. There is something of a contradiction among the things said by Opposition Members, in that they are perfectly happy to recognise that these things are matters that go down to the last minutes, because only when everything is agreed is anything agreed, but at the same time they are desperate for there to be more progress. In many cases it is the EU which is inhibiting progress on this for negotiating purposes.

Photo of Karl Turner Karl Turner Shadow Minister (Transport)

Considering that we are five months away from leaving the European Union, does the Minister think that everything is in place? Is he confident that there will not be any major problems, such as those that have been spoken about by hon. Members today?

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I take all comments and points made by hon. Members across the House with great seriousness, but all I am doing is pointing out an inconsistency in the Opposition’s position. The Government remain confident that an agreement will be secured. Not only that, it is interesting to see that there appears to be increasing confidence of that within the private sector as well, as the remarks of several chief executives of airlines have recently made clear.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I have a short period of time in which to speak. I have been given a little extra time by Karl Turner. I have dozens of points to address but if hon. Gentlemen wish to intervene, I am happy to take their points.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy)

Can the Minister explain what the Government’s confidence in reaching an aviation agreement is based on, given that the Secretary of State told the Airport Operators Association conference that discussions have not yet begun?

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

As so often the case, I am sad to have given way to the hon. Gentleman because these points are covered precisely in my speech and if I had had the extra 45 seconds to be allowed to make them, I could have reached them. We are seeking liberalised aviation access. We recognise that is what UK and EU consumers and businesses want and need. As we move forward it is important to be clear that we recognise that it is in everyone’s interests to do a deal quickly and to make it a good deal.

Before I turn to the many specific points that have been raised, as colleagues have said aviation is crucial to the UK’s economy and its standing as a great trading nation. It has been a global success—there can be no doubt about that. We have the third largest aviation network in the world and the biggest in Europe, with direct flights to more than 370 international destinations in 100 or so countries, providing at least £22 billion to the UK economy every year and supporting more than half a million UK jobs.

As a Government we do not wish to see the introduction of new barriers that would hinder the growth of our aviation industry—I do not think any Member of Parliament wishes to see that. That is why we are seeking to strike the right deal with the EU, one that allows that sector to grow and prosper. We should be clear that not just the UK will benefit from a liberal aviation market. It is in the interest of all EU countries and citizens that a comprehensive air transport agreement is negotiated.

Lest we forget, 164 million passengers travelled between the UK and EU airports in 2017. UK residents made 42.7 million visits to the EU and spent an estimated £21.3 billion while they were there. It cannot be in the interests of either UK or EU businesses or consumers for flights to stop, let alone be interrupted. That is why we are working so hard to reach a deal which continues the current arrangements, in as close to a liberalised form as we can.

As hon. Members across the Chamber have said, consumers and industry want certainty, and quickly. So do the Government and much, if not all, of the EU and its member states. It is true that negotiations on transport have yet to begin—that is an EU decision—but let me assure Members that we are ready for that when they do. We work closely with the aviation industry to ensure that the needs of the global sector are factored into our negotiations. Our objectives for future partnership on aviation are precisely to preserve the connectivity, the high safety standards and the efficient use of airspace that consumers benefit from today.

There are many reasons why the EU should and will, I think, agree to a liberal aviation deal with the UK. The UK has been at the forefront of driving forward the liberalisation of aviation markets across the world, precisely the point made eloquently by Dr Whitford. It is that liberalisation that has driven down prices and opened up accessibility to aviation markets for many people across this country.

We provide EASA with a significant amount of expertise and have played a key role in enhancing safety standards across Europe. One of the ironies of the present situation is that EASA was set up if not largely by the Civil Aviation Authority then with heavy influence from this country. We are a global leader in aviation security, with one of the best security systems in the world. Our geographical position in the aviation network means that along with Ireland, the UK services more than 80% of traffic entering or leaving EU airspace from the north Atlantic.

We start from a unique position of having wholly aligned regulatory standards with the EU. No two agreements are exactly the same; we recognise that. Each one will inevitably be tailored to suit the circumstances of the parties involved, but we seek an agreement on which we can build a further liberal future aviation relationship. The benefits that both sides gain from air transport are clear, and the benefits that we have described are so evident that we feel some justification in believing that the arrangements will continue.

As a responsible Government, we must also contemplate the unlikely event that we might conceivably be forced to leave the EU without a deal. We believe that flights between the UK and EU will continue, even if that happened. It would be in nobody’s interest to introduce obstacles to airlines or to limit the choice of destinations that passengers enjoy today. The continuation of flights is far and away the highest probability, but we have to prepare for all eventualities until we can be certain of the outcome of negotiations. Our preparation plans continue at pace, against the possibility of a no deal, in part to support the final deal we eventually agree.

As part of that planning we have published three aviation technical notices. These set out the pragmatic approach that the UK would take in any no-deal scenario. The point of that approach is to avoid disruption to air services, to support businesses and consumers, and to maintain their rights across the EU. We expect the EU to do the same. We think they will. It is character for them and in the interests of both UK and EU consumers and businesses. Our preference, of course, would be to have in place a multilateral contingency agreement with the EU27. We are pleased that the EU is preparing for contingency plans as well as for future partnership discussions. We would welcome a common approach, but we must prepare for all scenarios.

It is certainly true that the UK and EU aviation sectors urgently need reassurance that we are working on positive post-EU exit solutions for all possible outcomes and that in any scenario there will be continued connectivity. Regardless of the outcome, the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 will provide the maximum possible certainty to individuals and businesses about their legal rights and obligations as we leave the EU.

Turning to third countries, we are also aware that the issue reaches beyond the EU. We are working hard to deliver another priority, which is to replace quickly EU-based third country agreements with countries such as the US and Canada. We are working with these countries to ensure new replacement arrangements are in place after we leave the EU. Despite some reports to the contrary, talks have been positive and we have made significant progress. We believe with some confidence that these arrangements will be ready for exit.

The UK also has 111 independently negotiated bilateral air service agreements with countries all over the world, including China, India and Brazil. There will be no change to these when the UK leaves the EU. As always, we will continue to seek new and improved bilateral air service agreements with the rest of the world, seeking to improve connectivity, choice and value for money for businesses and consumers.

I turn now to the points raised in the debate, starting with those of the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East. He said that it was critical that the choices that constituents are able to make remains the same. We recognise that. It is important to be aware that tourism is booming across the UK and is now worth over £66 billion annually to the economy. As he knows, we are proposing reciprocal visa-free travel arrangements to enable UK and EU citizens to continue to travel freely for tourism. The Home Office has set out proposals on the movement of workers and will set out future immigration policy shortly. We have been clear that we seek a comprehensive agreement on air transport that provides for continuity of services and opportunities.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether there was an adequate fall-back. As I said, our preference is for a contingency agreement with the EU27 to be in place, but since the Commission will not engage with the UK at the moment, for tactical reasons of negotiation, we need to discuss bilaterally with member states what arrangements will be put in place. The aviation technical notices clearly set out the pragmatic approach we propose in any no-deal scenario. Specifically, we intend to give permits to EU airlines—this addresses the point the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire made about Ryanair—to allow them to operate in the UK, and we expect that to be reciprocated by the EU.

The hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East and other colleagues asked what practical steps the Government are taking to secure the mutual recognition of aviation safety standards. Of course we recognise that our continued participation in EASA in some form will reduce regulatory burdens for the sector. As we set out in the White Paper, there is an established mechanism and a precedent for third countries to participate in the EASA system.

All UK-issued safety approvals and certificates conform with the international requirements of the Chicago convention, so all those associated with the international operation of UK-registered aircraft should continue to be recognised for the operation of air services by UK aircraft. Let me be clear that we are pressing the EU for technical discussions to take place between the CAA and EASA as soon as possible, to ensure that any respective contingency and other plans are fully aligned. We seek an improved shared understanding of the situation on all sides.

The hon. Gentleman expressed concern that the Government may not be prepared to use the opportunity to prepare the aviation sector for the next five to 10 years. As colleagues across the House have rightly pointed out, that issue is in many ways independent of Brexit. As colleagues know, the Government are developing a new aviation strategy, the purpose of which is specifically to achieve a safe, secure and sustainable aviation sector. That is a long-term strategy. It is not a 10-year or even a five-year thing—it is a strategy out to 2050 that is designed to lay the foundations of a strategic shift and development in the way our aviation industry operates.

We have a strong focus on consumer issues, but of course we also champion the economic benefits of aviation. We will consider how we can maximise the role of our world-class aviation sector in developing trade links, but we recognise the need to focus inward on industrial strategy as well as outward on international trade. On 7 April, the Government published the aviation strategy next steps document, which outlines the key challenges ahead for aviation and our considerations in responding to them. We plan to deliver a final aviation strategy in early 2019—for those who asked, that is not so far away.

Turning to airports and Border Force, the Department for Transport continues to work closely with Border Force on the “Welcome to the UK” initiative. Border Force recognises that, given predicted passenger growth, which is undiminished by the concerns that were raised, queues at passport control may get longer. The purpose of the recent announcement that millions more people will be able to use e-passport gates was precisely to meet that long-term contingency. The two sides are committed to working closely with the industry to minimise queuing times by reducing last-minute schedule changes and ensuring that service-level agreements are set at the right level. Alongside that, the Government plan to consider whether there are additional or alternative funding mechanisms in the medium term.

The hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East rightly asked whether skills and training will be adequately maintained in the face of the changes to the sector after Brexit. I reassure him that the Government are very much committed to working with industry to support the aviation sector. The Department is working closely with officials across Government to explore all those issues and to incentivise the growth of the UK aviation sector in the longer term by examining options to stimulate skills and training alongside and through the work that is being done in this sector under the industrial strategy. We believe aviation is critical to both the UK and the EU, and we are determined to make it so in the future, too.

The hon. Member for Strangford, who was not in his place when I mentioned him earlier, is absolutely right to highlight the continued investment in this country. He said good times are around the corner. I think times are pretty good at the moment, given the way tourism is booming and the economy continues to grow. We have a late-stage economy that is still growing at more than 2.5%—I think we can all be very pleased about that. He is absolutely right that that performance is not discounting a disaster post-Brexit; it is actually discounting continued business and economic growth, and rightly so.

The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire rightly pointed out the huge falls in flight costs that resulted from liberalisation. She highlighted Hanover. I am pleased to say that when George I came to this country from Hanover he did not have to go by aeroplane, but it would have been a lot cheaper if he had done so—in her judgment, the Elector of Hanover could have come here in a matter of hours for something like £50. Let me reassure the hon. Lady that Ryanair should have no reason at all not to fly to Britain. The UK intends to continue to offer arrangements that will allow it to fly unimpeded to this country, and we expect the EU, in the open spirit I described, to do the same, as we grant permits to EU carriers. But we want a comprehensive, liberalised agreement, and she rightly focused on the benefits of that.

Luke Pollard raised non-disclosure agreements. I do not think there is anything that any Government could or should be concerned about in that respect. This is a very delicate time in discussions with the EU over Brexit, and such agreements are quite common.

I was invited to wind up by 3.57 pm, so I will quickly pick up some other points. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport mentioned licences, and I have a private pilot’s licence myself. Tragically, I have not used it much recently, but I am sensitive to the point he raised. I am confident in the capacity of the CAA to manage any issues and to ramp up. Given the time, I should probably sit down. Thank you very much indeed, Mr Hollobone.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

I call Mike Kane to bring the debate in to land.

Photo of Mike Kane Mike Kane Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools) 3:57 pm, 31st October 2018

Thank you, Mr Hollobone. We have had a good debate. Now we know the Minister has a pilot’s licence, we know he could have brought it in to land himself, but he had to wind up.

Since Richard Arkwright built his mill in 1783, Manchester has been a global trading city. That is why this issue is important to me, my constituents and the 30 million passengers, and that is why I look at a global Britain. I say with all gentleness to Alan Brown that his was the first contribution from the Scottish National party Front Bench that did not mention air passenger duty. I say to him: “Now that you’ve got the power, use it if you want to be a global Scotland.” That is really important.

I turn to my fellow seafaring city MPs. My hon. Friend Luke Pollard made a fine speech, which demonstrated his expert work before he came to the House, and I wish him all the best with his campaign to reopen Plymouth airport. I agree with my hon. Friend Karl Turner that it would be devastating to leave without a deal. Although the Minister summed up our relationship with the EU on aviation really eloquently, it is still worrying that we have had no negotiations to date. It is important that those do not go down to the last minute.

The hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) summed up the issue. As the hon. Gentleman said, this is about confidence and there are options, but the industry needs know what its options are because, as the hon. Lady said, we are selling slots for summer now. This is not a problem for next summer—it is a problem now. We must get the Government around the table, get a deal and ensure we can go forward in confidence as global Britain with our aviation sector.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered the effect on the aviation sector of the UK leaving the EU.