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Industry leaders line up for UK aviation strategy debate

Airline industry leaders will meet next month at a conference in London with the need for a clear strategy for the UK aviation sector high on the agenda if the country is to capitalise on the economic benefits of air transport.

The high-level Airlines 2050 event is being organised by industry groups Airlines UK, BAR-UK and IATA, together with FlightGlobal, to bring together key aviation and government stakeholders to address the challenges facing the development of aviation in the UK – and the sector more widely.

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Notably that includes ensuring the necessary infrastructure and regulatory environment is in place to support growth, together with the need for industry to ensure this is done sustainably.

IATA’s recent UK Air Transport Regulatory Competitiveness Indicators report shows the sector supports 1.56 million jobs and contributes £89 billion ($110 billion) to UK GDP, but that employment could fall to 1.44 million by 2037 unless policies are adopted to facilitate continued growth of aviation.

“For a government it makes huge sense to look in the long term and take advantage of aviation and what it can bring economically and socially,” says IATA’s UK and Ireland country manager Simon McNamara.

Crucial to the future UK positioning is the long-standing challenge of addressing the runway capacity shortage in the south-east of the country.

BAR UK chief executive Dale Keller notes the UK’s enviable position as a global leader in aviation has more recently been developed through private investment by airlines and airports against a policy vacuum from central Government. He says a lack of infrastructure investment in airport capacity and associated surface connectivity, together with delays in air space modernisation, means that the UK is starting to fall behind on connectivity.

“It cannot be a moment too soon for the UK Government to conclude its long-term strategy for aviation in conjunction with the industry and to commence the all-important implementation stage,” say Keller.

Alongside the high-profile issue of how the UK addresses the shortage of airport capacity in the south-east of England, the impact of taxation and visa policies in shaping the demand for air transport will also be high on the agenda.

While the importance of ensuring the UK positions itself to yield the economic benefits of air transport is a central theme in the debate around future strategy, Airlines 2050 also focuses on the key issues that accompany aviation growth.

Sustainability is probably the most high-profile of these issues, and the conference will debate the role governments and regulation should play in managing future environmental impacts of the sector.

“Sustainability is a huge challenge for our business. Airlines are committed to cutting carbon emissions in half by 2050 and have already made considerable investments in greener aircraft and clean fuels," says IATA's McNamara. "But we need to work together with government on coordinated policies for a sustainable industry that can continue to widen access to air travel for all."

Keller concurs: “The global momentum on tackling environmental challenges has increased the focus on aviation and what the sector is doing to reduce its environmental impacts, particularly in relation to carbon emissions."

Noting the sector has done much through technological and efficiency gains, Keller acknowledges there is more work to do. But he adds that governments should also do more to increase public awareness of their emissions reductions plan and developing a hierarchy of how targeting quicker, easier and most effective wins over those that are more complex or will take longer.

A key of focus of Airlines 2050 will also be on the workforce of the future and strategies to not only fill a future skills gap, but to ensure it is more diverse and inclusive.

Speakers at the events include the heads of UK carriers including Alex Cruz at British Airways, Shai Weiss at Virgin Altlantic and Dawn Wilson at TUI Airways, as well as Emirates chief Tim Clark. They will line up alongside leaders from key stakeholders from government, business as well as from London Heathrow airport and the UK CAA.

Airlines 2050 takes place in London on 17 October. For more details go to flightglobal.com/Airlines2050

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