Aviation Industry — [Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]

Part of Worker Exploitation: Leicester Textile Industry – in Westminster Hall at 3:13 pm on 18th November 2020.

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Photo of Saqib Bhatti Saqib Bhatti Conservative, Meriden 3:13 pm, 18th November 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I thank my right hon. Friend Chris Grayling for securing this important debate. I congratulate the Minister on his role—I listened to his first speech at the Despatch Box, and wish him a long and successful career on the Front Benches. Today, the privilege is all mine.

I am lucky enough to be the Member of Parliament for the constituency that is home to Birmingham airport. It is often referred to as a regional airport, but it is actually a global hub. It is the single greatest economic asset that we have in the west midlands. To understand its importance, we must understand its context and the cost of losing it.

It is no secret that we in the west midlands were experiencing an economic renaissance pre-covid. The airport, and therefore my constituency, were and are right at the heart of that. In normal times, the net impact of the airport is about £1.5 billion of gross value added, and it is responsible for 31,000 jobs. Those figures were set to rise to £2.1 billion and 34,500 respectively by 2033. Our region has consistently had a trade surplus with the United States and is the only region in the country to have a trade surplus with China.

Pre-covid, 35 airlines flew all over the world from the airport, which served around 13 million passengers and was set to serve 18 million by 2033. In short, the airport is a key economic accelerator for the region, providing the air connectivity that is vital to the expansion of international trade, investment and employment, and to the growth of inbound tourism and outbound leisure destinations.

Covid, however, has been absolutely devasting. The number of airlines operating out of the airport has been greatly reduced. Since March, about 800,000 passengers have been through the airport and the current lockdown has, of course, prevented the airport from staging a recovery. The Government have made significant steps through the job retention scheme and that has obviously been helpful, especially because recruitment in the aviation sector is so difficult: that takes time, especially with helping the workforce maintain security credentials.

As we have heard, the need to protect our aviation sector is more acute than it has ever been. Many of our airports have fixed costs such as security and rates, as we heard. My airport pays about £5.6 million a year. There is also air traffic control. I ask the Minister to do everything he can to help find innovative solutions to support our airports, whether it be business rates relief working with colleagues in the Treasury, or a testing regime that protects passengers and the UK without disincentivising travel to the UK. That is all important because of what our airports represent. They are more than just buildings, hangars and hubs for big flying buses, they are communities, supply chains and jobs. They represent our vision as a nation, our ambition, and our dreams. They represent how we see ourselves and our place in the world. As we see light at the end of this long covid tunnel with vaccines and faster testing, we will be able to start that long but necessary journey to recovery. I promise to work with the Minister to help our aviation sector get back on its feet, and I encourage him to do so.