Time running out to save airports at heart of regional economies, warns Unite

wide shot of white aeroplane at airport

More than two months on from the promised, but yet to emerge, government support for the UK's beleaguered aviation industry, the UK's leading aviation union is warning that without urgent action, regional economies will take a big hit destroying the prime minster's pledge to `level up' the economy.

New research

Research commissioned by Unite the union highlights the vast economic contributions airports make to regional economies and details the devastating effect that closure of an airport or severe reductions in activity would have on the local area. An estimated 1.2 million UK workers rely on aviation for their employment, many of them in the airports, airlines, retail, services and transport jobs associated with air travel.

easyJet blow

The report is published 24 hours after the sector suffered yet another blow as airline easyJet announced plans to cut its workforce by 30 percent. easyJet is a hugely important player in terms of regional airports with major bases at Gatwick and Luton.

Regional airports

Unite's research details how Heathrow, the UK's largest airport, supports a total of 190,000 jobs across the UK and generates an income of £9.7 billion for the surrounding and national economy. It also details the economic benefits of regional airports to local economies, for example, Bristol airport indirectly supports 15,000 jobs in the South West and generates £1.3 billion, while Glasgow Airport is another significant economic contributor, supporting 8,200 jobs and generating £590 million for the Scottish economy.  

Northern Ireland is particularly reliant on air travel to ensure connectivity to the UK mainland but its two airports Belfast International and Belfast City, are also major employers, supporting 4,000 workers who are directly employed at the airports. 

Cardiff, the principal airport in Wales, directly and indirectly, supports 2,600 jobs and generates £93 million for the local economy.

Studies have suggested that Gatwick and the local town of Crawley could be worst affected by lack of support for the aviation sector, the airport generates £2.7 billion for the South East and directly and indirectly supports 43,000 jobs.

But it is not just the larger airports that support local economies; smaller airports including Aberdeen, Bournemouth, Doncaster/Sheffield, Exeter and Southampton are all vital to their local economies.

Full regional impact

The new research Economic and social importance of the UK’s regional airports further develops the key messages found in Unite’s own blueprint UK aviation flying into the future which provides details of the actions needing to be taken by the government to protect airlines and airports and to preserve jobs and conditions in the sector, which has been severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Unite is warning that without a specific bespoke package for the aviation industry tens of thousands of jobs could soon be lost. All airports are impacted and smaller regional airports may even be forced to close permanently

Massive economic activity

Unite Assistant General Secretary, Diana Holland, said: “Airports are hubs for massive economic activity for our towns and cities, supporting jobs from cabin crew and ground handling to engineers and cleaners. 

"But they are facing huge challenges at the moment and need urgent assistance to secure a future where they can continue to provide important routes and support millions of direct and indirect jobs.

"The prime minister himself made clear yesterday that he is committed to levelling up the economy, to spread the economic benefits more fairly. That really must mean helping our airports through these tough times as, possibly more than any other industry, they provide jobs and incomes in every corner of the country.

"To lose them or see them diminish as employers will open up huge holes in local economies the length and breadth of the country. 

“It is crucial that regional airports are supported by the government to ensure that regional connectivity and local economies are not irrevocably damaged with mass job losses, especially in those parts of the country where they are a major employer or the heart of the economy.

“Regional connectivity is a vital lifeline that needs to be preserved and enhanced through support for specific routes through public service obligation funding.”

“Our airports are central to our infrastructure and vital for business, travel and even the NHS. They must be preserved for the nation's benefit.”

Unite is urging everyone in the local community surrounding an airport to contact their local MP to lobby the government and explain how regional airports and the entire aviation sector needs specific financial support.