Government needs to support air industry if it wants UK to survive as a global trade leader – John Holland-Kaye, CEO Heathrow

Heathrow’s CEO John Holland-Kaye has hit out the government’s lack of support for the aviation industry during the Coronavirus pandemic, which he believes has cost hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Speaking at the West London Blue Skies Conference – reimagining our global hub – John Holland-Kaye criticised the government’s ‘lack of economic focus’ which he said was harming the UK’s long-term trade position.

“I have avoided criticising the government during recent months because it is a difficult time but the lack of focus on the economy and on the key element of trade, such as opening up airports, is impacting on jobs,” he said. “It is tragic to see hundreds of thousands of jobs being lost in UK, many of which could have been saved.”

John Holland-Kaye said the government was treating aviation as an individual sector, rather than seeing it as an enabler of all economic sectors because of the role it plays in trade.

He told the conference that the airport’s passenger flights usually carry goods around the world –delivering around 40% of the UK’s inbound and outbound supply chain – and while they were effectively shut down, the UK economy is at a standstill. He said it was important that testing at airports was introduced as quickly as possible to help kickstart the economy.

“I don’t want to see a single person lose their job if there is something I can do to help. We have to fight for our place in the world,  fight for every job in the area,  and this is a wake-up call for all of us to build a stronger West London and Thames Valley.”

John Holland-Kaye compared the lack of support for the aviation industry in the UK with the support other airports and airlines had received in the US, France and Germany, saying it was behind even Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s in the support it had received in the UK.

“One of things that frustrates me most is that although aviation has been affected very severely, there has been almost no help with business rates, unlike Tesco and Sainsbury’s who have been let off rates. As a consequence we are really having to tighten belts hard. We are applying for relief, but  it will come out of Hillingdon Council’s annual budget and is that’s not fair – it doesn’t  happen like that for Sainsbury’s’ and Tesco’s, but because of the way the government has done it, it will impact on local communities which is the last thing anyone wants.”

John Holland-Kaye also pleaded for expansion as a route out of the pandemic and into growth, saying the importance of having a big international aviation hub was critical for the UK’s future.

“Expansion is critical for UK in any event – we, need to compete with France and Germany and we need to chart a path for the UK which will see us as having a confident path to remain a global trading nation for generations to come,” he said.

“The airport opens up the entire world to all of the UK but the world is changing, and we are very poorly served in comparison to India, China and the US. Unless we develop long haul to those countries we will be increasingly marginalised. We will be flying through Paris to get to global markets.”

Speaking in an interview with BBC journalist Christian Fraser, John Holland-Kaye said the UK had an opportunity to be a leader in sustainable aviation.

“We were the first country to commit to net zero, and I am excited by COP26. We have been building a coalition of the the willing internationally among airlines, airports and oil companies and pretty much all the airports are signed up and committed to net zero by 2050. This is something I could not have imagined just 18 months ago and we are trying to get a global agreement on decarbonisation by COP26.

“We need a lead that other people can buy into and that is where the plan to move to sustainable aviation fuels is viable because it can be delivered by 2050. It wasn’t being focused on two years ago but it is already built into UK plans and we have investors coming in, wanting to put money into sustainable fuel. The future is coming fast and now is the time to push”.

John Holland-Kaye also said he was passionate about supporting the area’s skills agenda.

“We are very focused on the local community and how we can replace some of the jobs that have been lost through the devastation that covid-19 has caused the aviation sector and how we can work together to rebuild communities,” he said.

“I am very conscious as the biggest single local employer, we have responsibilities to local communities. It is a complex relationship – Heathrow is a catalyst  for people coming to live here because of the great jobs, great communities ,opportunities for schools, but there are areas where that is the case and areas where it is not and that is what I want to work on,I  want to make the area around Heathrow one best places to live and work in the UK.”

He asked for more flexibility around apprenticeships so the airport could support more people into career paths and supported the idea of an Aviation Tech Park and/or a Green Innovation Zone.

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