Nadhim Zahawi is UK business minister with a brief that includes aerospace and advanced manufacturing. In an interview on the eve of FIA Connect, he outlined to FlightGlobal the government’s support package for the sector, its ongoing commitment to green aviation, and the prospects for a “smooth transition” for aerospace once the country’s transition period with the EU ends in December

What has the Government done to support the aerospace industry during the coronavirus pandemic? 

 “The UK’s aerospace and aviation sector is a global success story we can be hugely proud of, but we do understand that huge challenges for the aviation sector brought by the coronavirus pandemic. We are supporting the aviation and aerospace sectors with more than £8 billion ($10.1 billion) in grants, loans and guarantees and support for exports and exporters to help s businesses through the pandemic and will continue to support businesses as the wider economic recovery gets underway.

Nadhim Zahawi, UK business minister

Source: Shutterstock

Nadhim Zahawi, UK business minister

 “We have been quick to put support in place when the coronavirus pandemic hit. We introduced some of the most substantial support measures in the world – hundreds of millions of pounds have been provided to protect aerospace workers through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, while funding from the Covid Corporate Financing Facility and Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme has supported UK firms to ensure that the UK aerospace sector will be well positioned for when the demand for air travel returns.”

How else is the UK Government providing support to the aerospace industry?

 “Our support for the UK’s aerospace sector includes a suite of measures to support the sector through the pandemic as well as long-term funding for revolutionary new aerospace technologies.

 “As co-chair of the Aerospace Growth Partnership, I speak regularly to pioneering companies across the sector, and I am really proud of the work we are doing to reach our shared ambition of the UK remaining a leading aerospace nation. We’re building on the fantastic work and investment made by industry in recent years and have implemented a range of measures that together will further develop the UK’s aerospace supply chain, particularly in green aviation technologies.

 “Over the next three years, we are investing £900 million with industry in new technologies through the Aerospace Technology Institute programme and government funding of £70 million, in the Future Flight programme to ensure that the UK is at the forefront of the next generation of green air travel.

 “However, we are not complacent and are in active dialogue with industry, both directly with companies and at sector level through the Aerospace Growth Partnership. We’re discussing what more may need to be done to work towards our shared ambition: to get the sector back on its feet and into growth as soon as possible.

 “Our vision is to build an even stronger and robust supply chain, develop new green aviation technologies and deliver differentiated products at competitive prices from highly productive facilities adopting digital manufacturing processes and skills.”

You mentioned green aviation and we know the Government has a wider focus on climate change. What are you doing for green aviation?

 “Right now our overarching ambition is to work together with industry to protect jobs across the country. Beyond that we are committed to realising our vision of net zero aviation as part of our wider efforts to ensure that the UK has the most ambitious green agenda of any country worldwide.

 “Through £300 million of joint investment with industry in the Future Flight Challenge we are also supporting the development of new electric and autonomous aircraft in the UK. The challenge will support the introduction of new services like electric passenger aircraft, building UK expertise in zero carbon aviation technology and allowing us to travel in a cleaner, greener way.

 “I’ve worked closely with my colleague, the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, to establish the Jet Zero Council. As the Prime Minister referenced in his speech last month, the Council will work with representatives across the aviation and aerospace industries to make zero emission flight a possibility for the future and they have the bold ambition to have a zero emission aircraft fly across the Atlantic.

“Many of our research and development programmes will help us to achieve that trans-Atlantic zero emission flight, such as the Faraday battery challenge. With an investment of £246 million this programme will make it easier for companies at the forefront of innovation to design, develop and manufacture batteries for all sorts of vehicles, including aircraft. The brilliant UK Battery Industrialisation Centre, which is a centre of excellence in battery design, opened earlier this year in Coventry.”

With demand for new aircraft likely to remain soft for some years to come, the sector will be very different as it emerges from this crisis – both nationally and internationally. What is your vision for UK aerospace and its place in the world in the next five to 10 years?

 “We have published an ambitious Research and Development Roadmap to ensure the UK is the best place in the world for scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs to live and work, while helping to power up the UK’s economic and social recovery and level up economic prosperity in all corners of the UK.

“Aerospace forms a vital part of that goal, and our vision is not just to retain the UK’s well-deserved place as a world-leader in aerospace, but to be at the forefront of new wing and propulsion technologies to propel us towards net zero aviation.”

UK aerospace is part of a highly-integrated European and multinational supply chain. As we emerge from the pandemic, the prospect of a no-deal Brexit looms from 2021. Can you assure UK aerospace companies that their businesses will not be further damaged by the imposition of new trade barriers with the EU?

 “We’re absolutely committed to a smooth transition for the industry after the end of the transition period. The UK is already a member of the World Trade Organization’s agreement on Trade in Civil Aircraft, so there will be no tariffs on aircraft parts traded with the EU.

 “We are committed to working hard to reach a Free Trade Agreement with the EU, and negotiations are continuing this week.

 “As part of these talks, we have put forward proposals for a Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreement (BASA) that will facilitate the recognition of aviation safety standards between the UK and EU, minimising the regulatory burden for industry and ensure continued close cooperation with the European aerospace industry.

 “Recognising the impact of coronavirus on UK businesses, we will take a pragmatic and flexible approach to border arrangements. We are confident this will help companies adjust to the changes and take advantage of the opportunities presented by being outside the single market and the customs union.”