In 1900, aviation was still the province of imaginative writers such as HG Wells. In 1945, the main experience of aviation was as an aspect of war, with British cities bombed from the air, Spitfires and Hurricanes in dogfights with the Luftwaffe, and the deadly silence of flying bombs as they crashed to destruction. Only the rich, or aircrew, had actually flown, so for most people flight was still something to be imagined.
But things have changed enormously in the last 70 years, and aviation is now a key sector of British industry – especially if tourism is included. Many more people are involved in aspects of aviation than ever before, and the majority of the population have had some experience of air travel. It is no longer the province of the imagination, but a reality that everyone can grasp.
The aerospace industry is a massive contributor to the British economy. In 2012 the industry had a turnover of £20bn, and enjoys a 17 per cent global market share in the industry – the largest in Europe and second to the US worldwide.
Which gives rise to the question: what are the issues that socialists would want to see given proper consideration in an aviation policy?
Aviation affects us in many ways.
For employment, the aviation industry is not just a huge contributor in the UK economy, and one in which we are world leaders, but it provides good quality jobs and sustainable careers with a vested interested in ensuring that skills are at the highest level throughout an employee’s career.
People are concerned about the impact of aviation on the environment, but developing technology makes aircraft and the fuels that they use more efficient and less polluting. Rather than saying stop flying, we should be encouraging the industry to develop better products to ensure that the impact on the environment is minimised.
Airline industries are crucial to developing tourism throughout the UK, and in a world where leisure time is on the increase as nations develop, are a fundamental aspect of our economy. Airlines mean that people can easily come to visit from further afield, which can serve to boost the economy as well as our status in the world.
But there are some challenges that need to be faced in order to allow these things to happen. Much of the development of the infrastructure to support aviation has been accidental rather than planned in character, almost since the first airports were established.
There is little point inviting people to fly long distances to the UK when, once they get here, to go any further than the airport is either hugely time-consuming or very expensive. So we need to look at the way international and regional flights can connect more effectively, and also the ways in which we move people to and from airports to the areas where they want to be. The Airports Commission is progressing towards a final report, but that shouldn’t stop the rest of us having our say on this vital issue as well.
The Exchequer makes a lot of money directly out of the industry, perhaps most blatantly through Air Passenger Duty (APD). Slapping a tax on a particular form of transport may be a way of raising some quick cash, but people do find it offputting. Of course, a millionaire can easily cough up the extra charges on his/her flight, so isn’t generally too bothered. But for people who are less well-off, it is a consideration in their travel plans.
Surely we don’t want air travel to revert to becoming an option only for the rich as it once was, but want all to be able to use this marvellous facility. There have been examples where low cost airlines have pulled out of, or declined to provide routes, because the APD makes an otherwise cheap fare prohibitively expensive. That can’t be fair on people who have less to spend.
Some of these suggestions are going to be controversial, I know. But aviation already, makes a huge contribution to our economy, of which we should be proud.
A future Labour government should celebrate these aspects of the industry. While we have to be cautious about the environment and pollution, we can surely expand our knowledge to explore better aircraft design and different fuel options.
We need to look at the impact of policies on our future as a major international tourist destination – and whilst recognising the need to maintain a secure transport system, ask if there are ways by which those who wish to fly here might not have an easier journey.
We need to expand job and training opportunities within the sector.
And we need to ensure that everyone can benefit from the opportunities aviation brings – not just the wealthy or those located in a few geographical locations across the UK.