I want to pay tribute to Iqbal Singh Vaid today, on behalf of Back Heathrow, but also personally. Sadly, Iqbal passed away on Wednesday 23rd March, at the age of 78 after battling long-term illness.
But battling is something Iqbal Singh was renowned for in west London, where he was a pillar of our local community.
He was a retired BA employee, a General Secretary of the Indian Workers Association (IWA) and received many accolades from Unite the union. Many of us will remember him as a passionate trade unionist and a powerful orator. His oratory was as strong and clear in English as it was in his native Punjabi.
Influential people wanted to hear what he had to say, not just because he was clear in his beliefs on issues like workplace rights, equality, job creation and the expansion of Heathrow, but because they knew he was embedded in the community he loved – he spoke for many people. Iqbal took his passion for grassroots organisation from the union movement to the Indian Workers Association.
Personally, I enjoyed his counsel. He was knowledgeable, articulate and wise. To have all those qualities in such abundance is a rare thing.
He will be missed by many people, particularly his family and the Southall community in which he served with distinction.
Our thoughts are with his family and his many friends.
Parmjit Dhanda and all at Back Heathrow
The Back Heathrow campaign has a long-standing interest in a successful aviation industry – the clue is in our name.
Therefore, it’s not surprising that we are very concerned by forecasts from the New Economics Foundation that up to 124,000 jobs are at risk across aviation and the wider supply chain it supports.
Employers, trade unions and the government all have a part to play in ensuring we tackle the Covid 19 pandemic whilst also keeping the aviation industry going strong. It was right for the government to take steps to minimise unnecessary travel but wrong that, so far, it has failed to properly understand the crisis in towns adjacent to airports and offer the support necessary to protect jobs that will be key to the country’s recovery.
One of the reasons for this lack of focus on aviation is that the industry and trade unions have been largely ignored when they have argued their case.
Back Heathrow therefore supports calls from the aviation industry and the TUC for the establishment of a tripartite body of government, trade unions and industry to replace the rejigged but smaller Environmental Social and Governance Group to guide aviation into the recovery and beyond.
Now, more than ever we need a plan for how the aviation industry can safely return to normal including some targeted support which recognises the seasonal and interconnected nature of the aviation sector.
Back Heathrow believes that if the government really wants to safeguard as many jobs as possible in the sector then it needs to provide support to retain capacity and capability to rebuild and recover. A recent report from the industry and trade unions calling for ‘full business rates relief – including the full furlough scheme remaining in place whilst restrictions are in in force’ and ‘a commitment to invest in technology to reduce the carbon footprint of the aviation industry’ is the minimum required and should be supported.
Although, the March Budget statement did extend the job retention scheme, there was no mention of aviation. It was a missed opportunity.
A strong aviation sector is needed if the UK is to have a strong post-COVID recovery, both in terms of international trade and vital employment opportunities in all regions of the UK. It is now down to the government to listen to the aviation industry and its strong trade union base, to give the economy the much needed boost it needs.
Uxbridge residents who emailed their MP, Boris Johnson, about the critical situation of job losses at Heathrow have been left bemused and disappointed by his response.
Calling for financial support for the airport over its cripplingly high business rates bill of £116m, the highest in the UK, Uxbridge resident Ranjit Sihota said: “As someone with a family member who was made redundant from the airport, the response by the Prime Minister shows that he just doesn’t understand airport communities and what his own constituents are going through right now.”
In his emailed reply (see below) Mr Johnson refers to measures to help limit the impact of reduced airport activity due to Covid 19, however Mr Sihota added: “The amounts available are pitiful and will not prevent further job losses.”
According to a recent report by Oxford Economics, the collapse in air travel threatens over 60,000 local jobs.
In his reply the PM says: “Grants of up to £8m will be available to commercial airports in England and will be used to help with business rates in 2020-21. The money, which will also help ground handlers, will shore up jobs and reinforce local economies.”
However, Back Heathrow executive director, Parmjit Dhanda said although any kind of government support during the pandemic was welcome these measures ultimately failed the aviation industry – and Heathrow in particular.
“The business rates waiver scheme is capped for airports at £8m, but Heathrow has the largest single rates bill in Britain at £116m. These kinds of caps have not applied in other industries, and so are hitting communities like the PM’s constituency hardest.”
Mr Dhanda added: “ The massive pressure on airport jobs, with eight out of every ten flights cancelled, has left the community around Heathrow reeling. The budget has failed to live up to local and national expectations on aviation jobs.”
Uxbridge resident Oliwia Molinska, with family work connections to Heathrow, said: “The Prime Minister needs to realise that thousands of jobs in west London depend on Heathrow, including jobs in Uxbridge. We need a fair deal for local people. His response suggests he really doesn’t know what’s happening in his own patch.”
Prime Minister’s response
Thank you very much for contacting me about support for Heathrow Airport during the Covid-19 pandemic. I appreciate that this remains a very worrying time for Heathrow Airport staff and their families – many of whom live locally in Hillingdon.
The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in greater uncertainty over future demand (at least in the short/medium term) in the aviation sector and that this continues to have a knock-on effect on the operational requirements of airlines and airports.
I want to be clear that the Government recognises the importance of the aviation sector to the UK economy, and the effect that the coronavirus pandemic is having on the industry. Going forward, the Government is keen to work with the aviation sector in finding a stable and sustainable recovery.
As you will know, we have already made available an unprecedented package of economic support for the sector to support them during the current crisis. This includes the Job Retention Scheme which has now been extended until April 2021, business rates relief and tax deferrals.
While the decision to close our travel corridors will help prevent the spread of new Covid variants in the UK, the Government recognise the impact this will have on the aviation sector. In order to help limit this impact, the Aviation Minister has recently announced the opening of the Airport and Ground Operations Support Scheme which will provide £100m to support airports in England, protecting jobs and giving airports the best chance of rebounding after coronavirus. Grants of up to £8m will be available to commercial airports in England and will be used to help with business rates in 2020-21.
The money, which will also help ground handlers, will shore up jobs and reinforce local economies. The Department of Transport has also established a Restart, Recovery and Engagement unit which is continuing to work alongside the aviation industry, including Heathrow Airport, on the immediate issues around restart as well as the sector’s longer-term growth and recovery.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Boris Johnson MP
There were high hopes for the Chancellor’s budget speech. His promise to do “whatever it takes, for as long as it takes” to support UK jobs and businesses is exactly what the aviation sector needed to hear.
His plans to extend the job retention scheme seemed to signal an appreciation that the economic crisis is far from over, so his failure to even mention aviation will be a huge disappointment to the 1m people who work in the sector and its supply chain and who will be feeling vulnerable after the budget.
The extension of support for jobs and training is welcome and the “Super-deduction” announced may help contractors to invest, but so much else was missing.
How can there be hope for a green economy without support for specifics like sustainable aviation fuel? The Chancellor projects growth of below 2% in the medium term – how could stronger growth be sustained unless aviation is thriving?
Heathrow is the UK’s biggest port by value and Global Britain cannot get off the ground without it – and a strong aviation sector. Support for aviation is essential if it is to help boost the economic recovery.
Aviation benefits almost every other sector – when it suffers, so do the jobs it sustains, as was underlined by parliamentary data published recently which shows unemployment rising around Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted at well over double the national rate.
The Chancellor’s failure to mention aviation at all is hugely disappointing. The only support offered is the existing Airports & Ground Operations Support Scheme, which offsets business rates, with a cap per airport of £8m – but Heathrow alone pays £120m per year.
Back Heathrow has long called for a 100% waiver of airport business rates as has been offered to other sectors. Local politicians of all parties support this but the Chancellor is not listening.
Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye said: “The absence of any meaningful support from the Government will weaken the sector and limit UK growth at the time it is needed most.”
It is difficult to disagree. So come on Mr Sunak, you said: “Whatever it takes, for as long as it takes” – now it’s time to put your arms around aviation.
Commenting ahead of the Budget statement, Parmjit Dhanda, Executive Director of Back Heathrow said the Chancellor must urgently address the lack of support for the UK’s aviation industry in order to prevent more job losses and further damage to supply chain infrastructure.
Back Heathrow – the campaign fighting to protect jobs and opportunities at Heathrow airport – says residents of west London know all too well how much their local communities rely on Heathrow and its supply chain for jobs and prosperity.
Mr Dhanda said: “Heathrow can spearhead an economic recovery, but it needs the government's help to make it happen. Things that government can do to help include extending the job retention scheme to protect aviation jobs.
“The business rate waiver for airports should also be extended to 100%. Currently Heathrow receives 7% relief on a bill of £120m – this fixed cost is crippling at a time when passenger and freight volume has collapsed.
“Finally, the restoration of VAT-free shopping for tourists would provide a welcome boost to revenues for all airports around the UK.”
Rivalry between Europe and the US over the best sustainable aviation fuels could hinder plans to tackle aviation emission targets set out in the Paris Agreement.
EU proposals will mean a minimum of ‘green’ fuel would have to be used in every aircraft flying within the EU, with incentives to boost production.
However, the last time something similar was attempted, the US objected and the proposals were subsequently dropped. Although greener fuels are around 80% less carbon emitting than conventional aviation fuel, they are also up to four times more expensive to produce. Needless to say in the current economic crisis no airline wants to be undercut by a rival, even if it is for a greener fuel.
And it isn’t just cost – debate also rages over the type of aviation fuel that best meets the carbon challenge and is commercially viable and sustainable – a choice between biofuels and electrofuels.
In 2021, renewable fuels account for just 0.05% per cent of total jet fuel consumption in the EU because previous attempts to encourage take-up of sustainable fuels through tax incentives and carbon trading schemes have failed.
But just how green is green? The debate within the aviation industry is about how sustainable ‘biofuels’ are, with some airlines opposed to the inclusion of crop based biofuels like palm oil because of environmental consequences. Palm oil is under scrutiny because processing it into fuel enhances its commercial value and encourages deforestation.
Technology now allows fuel to be produced from non-biological resources by blending conventional kerosene with renewable hydrocarbon and the term ‘sustainable aviation fuel’ (SAF) is used to highlight their sustainable nature.
Unsurprisingly, EU states will lobby for options that suit their own industries. Sweden favours a broad definition for sustainable fuels, including crop-based biofuels, whilst Germany is opposed to biofuels and wants to promote next generation electrofuels – created by combining hydrogen extracted from water with carbon taken from the air.
At the moment nearly half of aviation emissions are generated by long-haul flights which are not suitable for electric and hydrogen technologies so SAFs remain the fuel of choice in aviation. There is hope that COP26 – the UN climate change conference in Glasgow in November - will broker global agreements to ensure the future use of SAFs.
Back home the conundrum that faces the UK is how to achieve growth and cut carbon. Solving it is crucial to achieving the aim of meeting the global demands for trade and travel, whilst meeting the all-important target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. International agreements on SAFs will have a crucial role to play.
The idea of a health passport has been floated for a few months now. Airports, airlines and governments have all expressed interest in an online system that could track immunisation to Covid-19.
This would be in the form of an app or digital certificate – including vaccination and test records – giving everyone immune to Covid-19 digital proof of their health, and the ability to travel to countries that participate in the scheme.
European countries have urged the EU to come up with a co-ordinated certification that will be accepted across all member states.
The UN World Tourism Organisation secretary-general, Zurab Pololikashvili, said: “The roll-out of vaccines is a step in the right direction, but the restart of tourism cannot wait. Vaccines must be part of a wider, co-ordinated approach that includes certificates and passes for safe cross-border travel.”
Australian airline Qantas has announced it will require passengers to provide proof of a COVID-19 vaccination before they board. Australian borders are closed to visitors and residents must quarantine for 14 days from arrival. A vaccine passport would offer an alternative to that system.
In October 2020, a trial of a digital ‘health passport’ was held at Heathrow Airport. CommonPass was the first step towards creating a common international standard for Covid-free certificates. Participants were required to take a Covid test no sooner than 72 hours before their flight. If negative, the app generates a ‘QR’ code to be scanned by border officials and airline staff, without disclosing any other sensitive data.
The International Air Transport Association is also working on a system (called Travel Pass) which in its simplest form will be a centralised database of national entry requirements. It will also carry vaccine and testing information.
Mvine and iProov (identity management companies) have already developed such an app in the UK, which is in the final stages of testing. This app will give access to the vaccination and testing data of individuals, without disclosing their identity. Additionally, it will piggy-back on existing NHS infrastructure, so roll-out may become easier and cheaper.
The pandemic has brought the travel industry to its knees. While we are still early in the process of mass vaccination, making it compulsory to have a vaccine to board a plane or enter the country will not give the travel industry the boost it so desperately needs. Not in the short term anyway.
But if vaccine passports also carry information about a recent negative test or anti-body presence, then they can become part of an approach that can help revitalise the travel industry and begin and kick start economic recovery.
There is hope around the corner, and it can’t come soon enough.
Trade unions have teamed up with the campaign group Back Heathrow to urge the Prime Minister to help communities impacted by the crisis in aviation caused by the Covid 19 pandemic.
In a joint letter the trade unions GMB, USDAW, Community and Back Heathrow have asked the government for a business rate waiver for Heathrow airport – the country’s biggest payer of business rates – and its biggest single site employer.
Parmjit Dhanda, Executive Director of Back Heathrow said: “Airports in Scotland and Northern Ireland have received a 100% business rate waiver, as have other sectors of our economy. Airport communities in England are suffering badly due to lockdowns and reduction in flights.
“Despite losing over 80% of its flights, Heathrow’s business rates bill is still a massive £120m. The airport has only been given a 7% waiver. This is not sustainable and makes a bad situation worse for those depending on Heathrow and its supply chain for work. Airport communities in England need the same level of support as those in other parts of the UK. That’s why Back Heathrow and the trade unions have written to the Prime Minister.”
Under recent government measures, supermarkets were given 100% waivers to their business rates bills. The big supermarkets have handed back their waivers – so far worth £1.4bn. The trade unions and Back Heathrow say this should be used to help Heathrow survive.
In respect of the £1.4bn, the letter signed by leaders of three of the UK’s largest trade unions states: “Less than one-tenth of this waiver money would help Heathrow survive the present crisis, save countless local businesses, and thousands of jobs. We urge you to use this money as a lifeline for everyone who depends on Heathrow for their livelihoods and protect the future of our airport.” Download the letter here.
Unions have also urged the government to include a caveat that the funds will only be spent after a dialogue with unions to ensure jobs are protected at the airport and the wider aviation supply chain.
Back Heathrow speaks for 100,000 residents and businesses that depend on the airport for their livelihoods.
A recent report by Oxford Economics suggests that up to 62,000 local jobs could be at risk due to reduced activity at Heathrow airport. The Oxford Economics report is here.
Speaking after the Supreme Court judgement that ruled that Heathrow’s plan for a new runway is not illegal, Parmjit Dhanda, Executive Director of back Heathrow said: “This is an important moment for local communities who are desperate for jobs and apprenticeships at a very hard time for our economy.
“It is also a huge moment for the UK as it moves towards an uncertain Brexit, but now with the confidence that international trade will be boosted by additional capacity at the country’s only hub airport.
“Alongside our supporters in the CBI, TUC, and local communities, we see this as an opportunity to make progress, whilst also working to ensure the Paris carbon reduction targets are met as part of the planning application.
“This judgement reflects the alignment between the highest court in the land with a parliamentary majority of 296.”
Back Heathrow says expansion will bring 180,000 new jobs and 10,000 apprenticeships – something the whole country will benefit from. This can be done with strict compliance to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and investing in sustainable technology that will improve aircraft efficiency and boost the development of commercial sustainable fuels. It’s crucial for the UK to now get on and build the new runway.