Why The UK Aviation Industry Risks Falling Behind

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The UK’s aviation industry is at risk of putting off capacity and losing access to low-fare airlines, according to Ryanair’s director of marketing Dara Brady. He stated that the unwillingness of the UK government to scrap Air Passenger Duty (APD) was leaving British airports in an uncompetitive position for the future, and that airline capacity would end up going elsewhere.

Ryanair
Ryanair’s director of marketing warns the UK risks falling behind. Photo: Getty Images

The UK is not seeing the value of travel

With so many competing priorities on the table, it’s little wonder that the UK government is failing to do enough to support aviation. However, when you compare the way the crisis is being handled in Britain to other European nations where aviation is seen as a bigger priority, the differences are stark.

Speaking at the World Aviation Festival recently, Ryanair’s director of marketing Dara Brady noted the positive responses from other nations in Europe. He said,

“I think when you look at places like Italy and Spain, in particular, a lot of the economy is tourism driven, so they seem to be far more committed.”

He compared this to the UK’s response to returning to travel, which has, at best, been rather piecemeal. The Thursday quarantine list has become a regular highlight (or low-light) of the week for the aviation and travel industry, as passengers discover whether they can go on their pre-booked holiday or just cancel all their plans.

UK Quarantine Heathrow
The UK’s quarantine policy has been a thorn in the side of many airlines. Photo: Getty Images

The effect of this policy has been to put passengers off from making any plans at all. Portugal, as a destination, saw a surge in bookings when it was added to the ‘safe’ list, leading to airlines adding more capacity to the route. However, weeks later it was taken off again, which inevitably led to a flurry of cancellations and more refund requests added to the pile.

But it’s not just the quarantine that is worrying Ryanair’s director of marketing. Brady believes that the UK is not doing enough to bring back aviation, and as such, risks falling behind in the long run.

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Not enough is being done

The widespread feeling in the aviation industry is that the UK is not doing enough to support its airlines. The Ryanair director called out the lack of fiscal support measures, saying,

“The UK Government … the way that they’ve managed travel and the return to travel has been very poor. We’ve been calling on them to introduce incentives. They should be reviewing the scrapping of APD charges.”

Air Passenger Duty (APD) has been a long-held bug-bear of the aviation industry. It was hoped that the chancellors Autumn budget would contain some element of APD relief, even if it was temporary, but there was nothing. Ryanair’s sentiments were echoed by fellow low-cost carrier easyJet, with its CEO Johan Lundgren saying,

“Removal of APD and removal of ATC charges … would give us some confidence in planning for next year, never mind this winter.”

easyJet Johan Lundgren
easyJet’s CEO has registered his concerns also. Photo: Getty Images

It seems the government is unwilling to scrap APD, even in the face of the current crisis. However, the UK’s low-cost carriers are warning that the implications of this strategy could be much further reaching than Westminster realizes.

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The UK could lose capacity

The slow recovery of the aviation industry will inevitably lead to airlines reducing their capacity. The issue, as Brady sees it, is that without adequate stimulus, the UK could risk losing an uneven share of airline traffic. He said,

“How are they going to attract airlines and aircraft to be positioned in certain locations throughout the UK if they’re not going to really incentivize airlines to do that? They have neighbors over in German airports or Italian airports or Spanish airports … clearly aircraft are going to go wherever the most attractive locations are.

“Places like the UK are at a real risk of putting off capacity and having less access to low fares for consumers if the government doesn’t take a proactive approach to simulating the market.”

easyjet, Ryanair, Flight Cuts
The Ryanair director says low-cost capacity will go where the best deals are. Photo: Getty Images

Dara Brady further spoke at length about some of the attractive airport deals being offered by airports across Europe and stated that these are the places where Ryanair is likely to target an increase in capacity. With UK airports hamstrung by APD, they are going to remain uncompetitive for airlines during the recovery period.

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