The UK government is to develop a new aviation strategy for the next three decades to 2050 and beyond, as the country prepares to exit the European Union (EU) (Brexit).

“Aviation is central to our future prosperity as we leave the EU. As a global, trading nation we want to build on the great industry we have today and create opportunities for people up and down the country,” transport secretary Chris Grayling said.

He added the strategy “will look beyond the new runway at London Heathrow Airport.” The debate over whether to add a third runway at the London hub is a seemingly endless, as decisions keep getting changed and postponed.

The comprehensive long-term plan for UK aviation will address six specific areas:

  • customer service;
  • safety and security;
  • global connectivity;
  • competitive markets;
  • supporting growth while being environmentally responsible; and
  • innovation, technology and skills.

It will also discuss the best use of existing capacity at all UK airports.

“Our vision puts the passenger at the heart of what we do, but also recognizes the need to address the impacts of aviation on communities and the environment,” the government said.

On customer service, the government will seek public opinions about accessibility, restricted mobility, consumer protection, disruptive passengers and new approaches. Several of these topics are currently regulated at EU-level.

“Airport bag check-ins in town centers and a ‘luggage portering’ service [where bags are picked up from passengers before they reach the airport] are among a series of innovative ideas the public is being asked for views on,” the government said.

Safety and security will look at technologies that could be introduced at UK airports to counter terrorist threats, what could be done to raise security standards and whether current safety standards are acceptable.

The government will also assess ways to improve passengers and cargo connectivity, locally within the UK and globally, and the removal of trade barriers as the UK leaves the EU. This links in to competitive markets, checking whether existing regulation is in customers’ interests.

The environmental angle will focus on growth, while also mitigating impact in terms of emissions, noise and air quality, as well as looking at new forms of compensation and targets for noise reduction.

Finally, the government will look at which emerging technologies could significantly change the aviation market, or bring passengers benefits, how to support and regulate these technologies, and how the industry should address skills shortages and improve its diversity.

“The public is being asked to have a say on how this vital sector should respond to a range of technological, security, environmental and customer service challenges,” the government said.

Consultations will run through 2017-18 and the final strategy will be published by the end of 2018.

Lobby groups weigh in

Lobby group Airlines UK, which represents 12 UK-registered airlines responded to the consultation. The group once again called on the government to abolish air passenger duty (ADP) as part of the reforms, for well-funded and effective border controls, better surface access and a look at airport charges regulation.

Airlines UK CEO Tim Alderslade said: “If the strategy can address and deliver actions on some of these key issues, it will prove to have been a valuable exercise. We would caution, though, that the strategy process is kept as simple as possible, given the government’s already packed aviation agenda.

“The pressing issues of delivering an expanded Heathrow, whilst keeping the airport honest on cost and affordability, working with industry and community groups on modernizing UK airspace, and protecting existing EU and international market access and our continued membership of the aviation safety agency EASA during the upcoming Brexit negotiations, must remain front and center in the government’s thinking,”

The strategy announcement was made at Manchester Airport, coinciding with the start of a 10-year, £1 billion ($1.3 billion) investment program to double the size of Terminal 2 at the northern UK airport. This project will create 1,500 jobs and grow passenger numbers from 27 million to 45 million a year.

In recent years, Manchester has become the only airport outside London to offer many direct routes to long-haul destinations like Beijing, San Francisco, Houston and Muscat. The airport is aiming to expand its route network into North America, the Gulf, Asia, Africa and Latin America.

UK aviation directly supports 240,000 jobs and contributes at least £22 billion to the economy each year.

Victoria Moores victoria.moores@penton.com