The aviation industry is in deep crisis and time is running out for the government to act. Failure to act will have long-term implications for airport communities across the country. That is why GMB London and the Back Heathrow campaign have come together to make the case for urgent action to protect jobs, businesses and the communities we represent.
Campaigners outside the Crown Court in 2019
As Covid-19 has swept across the world, those at the heart of ensuring global connectivity have been hardest hit. Heathrow, the UK’s only hub-airport, was operating at 98% capacity before the virus struck. Millions of people were passing through every month, but by August 2020 passenger traffic had fallen by over 80% compared to the same month last year.
It is a dire situation for airports, airlines and the wider supply chain with businesses employing hundreds of thousands of people either collapsing or on the brink. A huge hole has been blasted in our national economy, leaving the country woefully underprepared for life in a post-Brexit world. It is clear - this is a national emergency for aviation that requires significant, urgent action.
However, instead of taking measures to ensure Britain can protect jobs and trade, the government has passively watched from the side-lines as thousands of skilled, unionised jobs have been lost. We believe there is a real danger that many sizeable airport towns and cities will lose businesses and jobs that may never return, leaving ghost towns where once we saw thriving, diverse communities.
The government can, and must act decisively to prevent this by:
- Recognising the contribution of aviation to the national economy. Over a million people rely on the sector for their livelihoods, and our public services need the £22 billion it adds to our GDP. Aviation is a special case, and the government should recognise that.
- Ensuring government investment is supported by a plan to transition to sustainable aviation. Creating a greener industry that meets the demands of a net-zero carbon world can benefit jobs too. By investing in Sustainable Aviation Fuels the government could support aviation and deliver on our environmental commitments.
- Providing immediate support, by ensuring the Job Support Scheme remains in place for as long as it takes to protect aviation jobs; and offering respite for airports to help retain staff through the deferral of business rates - as we have already seen in Scotland and Wales.
- Creating a national standard for safe flying with appropriate levels of PPE for staff and replacing the blunt quarantine policy with Covid testing at airports – restoring passenger confidence to fly again, as over 50 other nations have done already.
- Stop delaying Heathrow's expansion. When the Supreme Court has had it say this Autumn, the government should concentrate on delivering the long-term capacity at Heathrow that Parliament and an Independent Commission has called for. London and the country need the 180,000 new jobs and 10,000 apprenticeships that expansion will deliver. This can and must be done with strict compliance to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
It is time for the government to get serious about our airports, our aviation industry and its vast supply chain. GMB London and Back Heathrow want action to protect jobs, action to help businesses to trade and action to ensure the fabric of life in so many airport towns remains intact. There is no more time to lose.
This article was co-authored by the GMB union and Back Heathrow.
Testing for Covid-19 at airports is not a new idea. Many countries introduced testing as early as March 2020. We’re still grappling with the idea in the UK, and its August.
Every passenger arriving at Hong Kong Airport is being tested for Coivid-19. The tests are done at a temporary testing facility near the airport and results are available within eight hours. Passengers wait until the results are known and, when they receive a negative, they are allowed to enter the country.
A variation of this process has been adopted in Singapore, Japan and Dubai. At Vienna’s airport tests are offered to passengers pre-departure. If they receive a clean bill of health they will avoid quarantine at the destination.
An online poll conducted by the Back Heathrow community group shows:
- Local residents are opposed to the government’s quarantine policy;
- are in favour of more investment in Heathrow;
- want to see common international standards for airport health checks.
Asked about government plans to quarantine all airport arrivals for 14 days and the impact on jobs in the tourism and travel industries, nearly a half of all respondents (47%) thought it was wrong, 29% thought it was right, whilst 24% were unsure.
Nine out of ten residents also wanted the Government to establish a UK-wide and common international standard for temperature checks and contactless security measures.
Turning to the economic future of the UK and west London in particular, eight out ten thought the government should invest in Heathrow Airport to help boost the UK – now in the deepest recession since the 1930s.
Concern about employment came through strongly, with nine out of ten concerned about the low number of planes using the airport and the announcements by British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and other airlines on job losses and reduced operations.
This was mirrored with the question on Government help to the airport and airlines, with another massive eight out of ten saying the government should intervene to help the aviation industry before it was too late.
But perhaps the most interesting question was whether residents had noticed any difference to noise, pollution and traffic since lockdown, with traffic heading the poll over noise and pollution.
This week, BBC London News highlighted the economic storm about to hit the London Borough of Hounslow.
43,000 jobs in the borough depend on Heathrow, with 11,000 local people directly employed there and another 32,000 in the supply chain.
Source: Hounslow Council
Passenger numbers are already down 97%, leading many companies to furlough staff in the hope of saving their jobs until the Coronavirus crisis has passed. The decision to introduce 14-day quarantine for arrivals is likely to reduce passenger numbers still further and the government’s plans to transfer much of the cost of the furlough scheme to employers could have dire consequences for boroughs like Hounslow.
Wayne King of Unite the Union, which represents thousands of workers at Heathrow, told the BBC: “As employers begin to ease out of furlough, some of them are not going to be able to afford the contributions the government is looking for them to make. Mass redundancies will have a devastating effect on the local economy.”
The news item suggested the economic output in the borough could fall by 40% and one-in-three households is at risk of job losses.
Source: Hounslow Council
The government seems determined to push ahead on its quarantine plan. The leader of Hounslow Council, Cllr Steve Curran, wants the government to carefully consider the consequences.
“We are moving on to the economic crisis. I would ask people to think really hard about what that will mean, if there is mass unemployment.”
Without a concerted government plan for recovery in aviation, boroughs like Hounslow will be dealing with an economic crisis on top of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The proposals from British Airways to make as many as 12,000 people redundant and possibly end its entire operation at Gatwick is a worrying demonstration of how Covid-19 is changing the world. It is a deeply concerning time for people in and around Heathrow airport.
With so many jobs and livelihoods dependent on a thriving UK aviation industry, these fears will be shared in homes and communities across the country. Regional airports throughout the land are suffering. Some, like Newquay and Teeside, have shut to all but the emergency services, whilst others are reducing hours of operation and severely curtailing flights. Glasgow Airport has even repurposed its long-stay car park to host a drive-through mobile testing centre for the virus.
It’s not just the airlines and the airports that are suffering, as thousands of local businesses who rely upon them for work are hurting too – caterers, taxi drivers, cargo handlers, transport and construction workers, energy suppliers, security staff, cleaners and so on. It has been estimated that in the area to the west of Heathrow aviation and related activity supports around 120,000 jobs and contributes £6.2billion to the UK economy.
As Executive Director of Back Heathrow, the community group with over 100,000 supporters, I speak to local businesses, employees, and unions, and know the anguish this is causing. It’s really tough, but I know that we are all in this together and if the UK is to get its economy back on track, it’s going to need fully functioning airports and local businesses trading successfully again.
I hope that for some it won’t be too late. The Government must take action now to safeguard UK airlines and airports, so we can meet the Prime Minister’s challenge and ‘fire up the engines’ of our economy in post-lockdown Britain.
In these worrying times people are asking why is it that passengers arriving at Heathrow from around the world, including Covid19 hotspots like China, Italy and Iran, aren’t being tested for Covid19? Instead, under a system of 'enhanced monitoring', passengers are handed information leaflets and told to self-isolate for 14 days.
John Holland-Kaye, Chief Executive of Heathrow Airport, is equally bemused, and he isn’t alone. Other UK airports are also confused by the situation. They say the absence of checks is creating a false impression that Britain's airports are more dangerous than other nations and fear this could have long-term implications on passenger numbers.
As Executive Director of Back Heathrow, I support John Holland-Kaye’s letter to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, demanding stringent regulations to combat the virus. It’s time to adopt an internationally agreed set of measures for all airports in the world, including temperature checks, antibody tests, and a requirement that all passengers carry health passports proving they are medically fit. Without such precautions the health of the nation is at further risk, making a mockery of the lockdown conditions imposed on the rest of our country.
I know the critical role air travel plays in the lives of local people and indeed the whole of the UK. There are 76,000 jobs at stake at Heathrow and many more in local supply chains and supporting industries. These people need to feed their families, pay the rent or mortgage, and spend in the local economy. They need the government to urgently agree a plan that revives confidence here.
Our national plan must include the rigorous application of social distancing as well as temperature and antibody tests at British airports.
The Coronavirus emergency has shown us just how many people we depend on in our day to day lives.
On Thursday evenings at 8pm we have been able to celebrate many of them. Whether it’s our NHS heroes – the doctors, nurses and carers who risk their lives for us every day, or others like shopkeepers, refuse workers and volunteers in our neighbourhoods. They certainly deserve all the support we can give.
Heathrow is playing its part too at this difficult time. We know that across the country there have been huge issues in getting PPE (personal protective equipment) to frontline staff.
So, it was good to see Heathrow donate 6,000 respiratory face masks in the last week to Hillingdon Hospital and the Thames Valley Air Ambulance, and more will be delivered to these frontline organisations in the next few days.
Local Heathrow Community Rangers have been terrific – out in local communities delivering donations to foodbanks.
Despite operating with only one runway, Heathrow airport has experienced a 409% rise in ‘cargo only’ flights, carrying essential medical equipment and supplies for frontline teams battling against the pandemic.
On a lighter note, for those of you with children aged between 7 and 11, you might be finding it hard to keep them occupied during this extended Easter holiday. If so, why not visit the Heathrow educational resources website: https://www.heathrow.com/company/local-community/educational-resources
The website has a fun airport cargo challenge, a comms challenge and an airport quiz to keep the kids occupied – at least for a bit.
This is going to be a strange Easter weekend for us all. But please follow the government advice – stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.
The Back Heathrow team
Supporters of Heathrow expansion understand well that not everyone agrees with us. That’s fine, because our democracy is built on the proud tradition of differing views, but in today’s world it seems some people don’t just want different opinions, they want ‘alternative’ facts.
The ‘New Economics Foundation’ (an organisation opposed to Heathrow expansion) has just published an error-filled report on Heathrow’s expansion, claiming it will be subsidised by public money, that ticket prices will rise, carbon emissions will increase costs, and money and jobs will be sucked away from the regions and nations of the UK. All of this is just plain wrong.
Building support in 2019: A big thank you from the Back Heathrow team!
It has been a busy year and with 2020 only a few days away, we thought it would be a good time to take a look at some of our 2019 campaign highlights.
In January, over 1,200 residents signed campaign cards supporting Heathrow expansion, which were delivered to the reception desk of Hillingdon Civic Centre – only for them to be returned, unopened to the Back Heathrow office in early February.
Later that month, the campaign was boosted by a survey of Hounslow residents that revealed a significant shift in local opinion in favour of Heathrow’s new runway. It showed that 59% of residents overall supported the new runway – up from 44% in 2016.
In March, Back Heathrow was a strong presence outside the High Court at the start of the legal proceedings by several local authorities against Heathrow expansion. Our Director, Parmjit Dhanda said: "This project has been on the starting blocks for decades, and it’s now time to get on and build it.”
In May, Back Heathrow welcomed the ruling from the High Court rejecting claims from objectors (led by five London boroughs) who called for the new runway project to be stopped.
Later that month, Transport Minister Jesse Norman MP revealed that costs of £625,000 from the legal challenge to expansion would be recovered from the unsuccessful claimants.
In June, another council residents’ survey – this one in Ealing, revealed that that a large majority of its residents now backed the new runway, with 69% of residents supporting expansion.
In July, local residents voiced their support for the new runway at a demonstration in Uxbridge where they were supported by the GMB and Unite trade unions.
Also in July, Back Heathrow supporters in Ealing helped launch a campaign to persuade the council to have a free vote on its stance over Heathrow expansion.
In August, Back Heathrow supporters asked the Prime Minister to support the new runway, by showing him how much support there is for the project in his own constituency.
Supporters handed over 700 postcards from constituents asking Mr Johnson to give his full backing to the expansion project. A delegation of Back Heathrow supporters met with Boris' doppelganger outside the Civic Centre in Uxbridge, much to the amusement of supporters and residents.
In September, Back Heathrow exhibited at the TUC annual congress in Brighton, where the debate on Green investment, infrastructure and apprenticeships was in full flow among delegates.
September saw a supporters’ summer event that set the scene for a possible general election, with a reminder for local politicians that their stance on Heathrow expansion matters to our 100,000 campaign supporters across West London and the Thames Valley. Take a look at the gallery of photographs of the event – over 300 supporters attended!
Later that month, Back Heathrow team members went along to the Hounslow Regeneration Conference, where among the speakers, was an interesting presentation by the University of West London on apprenticeships.
During the autumn, a major campaign event took place, once again at the Royal Courts of Justice on the first day of the appeal lodged by several London boroughs, environmental groups and the Mayor of London.
It was a good day from a Back Heathrow point of view. We had scores of supporters present – including GMB and Unite union representatives, who added their voices to the chorus of: Get on and build it!
Finally, as November faded into the Christmas run-up and election day loomed, Back Heathrow organised a general election hustings event in Hounslow. The main subject for the event was the proposed new runway at Heathrow airport.
Discussion throughout the evening was robust and respectful across the party divides. The six candidates who attended were left in no doubt of the importance of jobs and the economy to the audience, while also maintaining that the runway could be sustainable – and meet strict targets on noise, air and carbon.
On top of this, Back Heathrow organised several supporter meetings during the year including in Hayes, Feltham, Ealing, and Staines.
As you can see, it was a busy year and 2020 is set to be just as busy too. Thanks to all our supporters for your help.
Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to you all!
And to our opponents, on the whole we can say we’ve had a healthy debate with you too!
October 17, 2019 was another huge day for the Back Heathrow campaign. Our supporters were outside the Royal Courts of Justice on what was the first day of an appeal launched by several London boroughs, environmental groups and the Mayor of London.
They were the same claimants who lost a judicial review earlier this year, when the High Court threw out their challenge to the new runway at Heathrow on all grounds – and then awarded costs of £625,000 against them.
It was a good day from a Back Heathrow point of view. We had dozens of supporters present – including GMB and Unite union reps who added their voices to the chorus of: Get on and build it!
The mood among supporters was enthusiastic and good natured, fuelled by lots of coffee and the expectation of being on the other side of the road from the anti-expansion protesters.
It was a very busy and eventful day, with Extinction Rebellion protesters at Gatwick Airport, others provoking an ugly looking brawl at Canning Town DLR station, which dominated social media and newspapers the next day.
We believe you can have sustainable airport growth and tackle climate change too. Our message is simple: We want to see a new runway delivered with tight regulations: mitigating noise, protect air quality, cutting carbon and enshrined in law.
Likewise, the message from our friends among the trade unions at Heathrow airport is equally straight forward: Joe McGowan from Unite said: “Expansion will make a massive difference to the west London economy. We are campaigning for quality new jobs alongside tough regulations to protect our environment. At Heathrow we can have both."
Perry Phillips GMB’s Aviation Officer added: "We know it’s in the interests of current and future GMB members to expand the airport. This is a crucial project for London and the whole UK."
Job, opportunities and sustainability. That’s what the country needs.
See the pictures from the event here.