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.