Transport Committee

UK aviation: reform for take-off - Transport Committee - 25 April 2022

1. The coronavirus pandemic precipitated the worst financial crisis experienced by the UK aviation sector since commercial air travel became accessible and affordable for the general public in the second half of the twentieth century. As the pandemic developed, the Government introduced a national lockdown in March 2020 to protect public health. The aviation industry responded to the Government’s restrictions by organising repatriation flights for British citizens stranded around the globe. After those initial repatriations, flight availability decreased as the Government limited the circumstances in which people could travel internationally. Those restrictions changed more than 15 times between 2020 and 2022.

2. As the restrictions changed in response to the pandemic, the industry reacted by keeping certain routes open for essential travel and instituting measures to protect travellers, such as requiring passengers to wear masks on flights. At the time of writing (April 2022), most international travel requirements have been removed, but they could be re-introduced at any time.

3. The coronavirus pandemic led to an unprecedented decline in the number of flights in early 2020. There were 5,800 passenger flights to and from the UK in April 2020 compared with 201,000 flights in April 2019, which is a 97% reduction.1 The Civil Aviation Authority’s most recent flight data are from quarter four of 2021, covering October to December 2021. During that period, 30.9 million passengers flew in and out of the UK on 315,202 flights.2 Those statistics represent a steady recovery for the sector with flight and passenger numbers at the highest levels since quarter one of 2020. However, those statistics also show a 55% decline in passenger numbers compared with the same period in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic.3 The International Air Transport Association (IATA) forecasts that total passenger numbers to, from and within Europe will reach 86% of 2019 values in 2022, before making a full recovery in 2024 at 105% of 2019 values.4

4. IATA’s forecast does not include the potential effects of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, although the association states that “in general, air transport is resilient against shocks and this conflict is unlikely to impact the long-term growth of air transport”.5 IATA’s assessment is that “it is too early to estimate what the near-term consequences will be for aviation, but it is clear that there are downside risks”.6 Several factors will determine the extent to which the conflict will affect the UK aviation sector’s recovery from the pandemic. Those factors include the geographic extent, severity and time-period of sanctions and of airspace closures.7 Airline costs could also be affected by fluctuations in energy prices or rerouting to avoid Russian airspace.8 Finally, the conflict could affect consumer confidence and economic activity “even outside of Eastern Europe”.9 The Government must consider the effects of the Russian invasion of Ukraine as it develops its policy to support the recovery of the aviation sector.

5. We launched our inquiry, ‘Airlines and airports: supporting recovery in the UK aviation sector’ on 10 September 2021. The inquiry examined UK airlines’ and airports’ recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, including how the Government’s international travel restrictions, such as testing requirements, have affected that recovery. The inquiry also examined how the sector can improve domestic connectivity and sustainability and deliver better for consumers as it recovers from the pandemic. We held four oral evidence sessions. We received 47 written evidence submissions from the public, private companies and other organisations. We are grateful to everyone who contributed to and engaged with our inquiry.

Full Report > UK aviation: reform for take-off