In 2018, the UK Department for Transport (DfT) published the ‘Aviation 2050’ consultation, outlining its plans for the sector’s future. Yet, the aviation landscape has changed considerably since.
To better reflect the challenges and opportunities around Brexit, the pandemic, technological advancement and decarbonisation, the DfT has now published ‘Flightpath to the Future’, a strategic framework detailing how the British Government intends to create the world’s most reliable, modern and sustainable aviation sector.
Presented as a ten-point plan, the report outlines plans to strengthen and support the industry over the next decade, focusing on four key areas: sustainable recovery, embracing innovation, realising benefits for the UK, and user experience.
1. Sustainable Covid-19 recovery
Pandemic recovery is the most pressing issue for UK aviation, but it’s important that this is guided by a “clear vision for the future”. By working with the Covid-19 Public Inquiry and international partners, the DfT says it will build resilience – both against future pandemics and challenges on the horizon.
One of the most important contributions, the report states, will be improving the UK’s global connectivity in Brexit’s wake in order to facilitate trade and investment. This will be achieved through the prioritisation of new air services agreements and free trade agreements that feature liberal provisions for the aviation sector, as well as cooperation with international partners to reduce barriers to trade.
2. Strengthening the UK’s aviation standing
The British Government remains committed to maintaining the UK’s global reputation in aviation, strengthening international relations through organisations such as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the European Civil Aviation Conference, and EUROCONTROL. This will allow the UK to lead on global issues, such as decarbonisation, by pushing international aviation to agree to long-term emission reduction goals.
Safety and security is also on the agenda. Using its standing, the UK will continue to improve global safety standards by supporting proposals such as the ICAO’s Global Aviation Safety Plan and encouraging the deployment of emerging technologies.
3. Supporting growth in airport capacity
“Following the pandemic, we want to ensure the sector is well placed to recover and grow, so will support the sector to drive forward continued innovation and quality improvements,” the report states.
The take-off slot allocation system – which causes a “barrier to competition and new entrants” – will be reviewed to determine whether it facilitates fair, competitive, and efficient airport operation. The review will also consider whether this will deliver better outcomes for passengers, such as lower fares or increased service innovation.
Airport expansion certainly has a role to play too, but must be done so in a way that delivers positive outcomes for people and the planet. The report insists that any expansion must not fall foul of the UK’s emission reduction targets.
4. Achieving the UK’s Jet Zero goal
Expanded upon in the new Jet Zero strategy, the British Government has set UK aviation the goal of reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050. However, the strategy also sets short-term targets – such as the deployment of zero emission flights within the next decade and increasing the percentage of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) in fuel mixes to 10% by 2030.
Led by the Jet Zero Council – a collection of leaders in government, aviation, aerospace, and academia – these goals will be achieved through support and investment in the development of SAF, zero-emission flight, and carbon removal techniques and technologies, as well as influencing the behaviour of consumers.
5. Encouraging technology development and adoption
Through support and investment, the British Government pledges to position the UK at the forefront of innovative aviation technologies. With Brexit providing regulatory freedom, the UK can lead in the implementation of innovative aviation solutions such as drones and electrical vertical take-off and landing aircrafts (eVTOLs), which could help to reduce emissions, provide jobs, and improve services.
The UK Government is investing in initiatives, such as the Connected Places Catapult and the Drone Pathfinder Catalyst Programme, to support the development, trial, and deployment of new aviation technologies.
Over the next decade, the report states, it will work with regulators and industry leaders to produce “rapid and significant change”, creating a framework that offers clear direction and targets to businesses hoping to bring new air mobility technologies to the market.
6. Levelling up local areas
The UK’s vast network of aviation infrastructure provides vital jobs, investment, trade, and tourism to local communities. With regional airports having suffered economically during the pandemic, the report reaffirms the UK Government’s commitment to supporting regions reliant on the sector in line with the levelling up agenda.
Establishing ‘freeports’ will be an important part of this. These designated areas will benefit from incentives such as tax reliefs and simplified customs arrangements to encourage investment, innovation, and trade – providing jobs and boosting local economies.
Regional air connectivity will also be strengthened through a 50% reduction in domestic Air Passenger Duty, combined with measures such as Public Service Obligations, which will protect routes deemed unprofitable by operators.
7. Attracting the next generation of aviation talent
As current airport staff shortages show, retaining and growing the existing workforce is crucial to recovery.
Following the success of the Aviation Skills Retention Platform, launched to assist those out of work or at risk of redundancy during the pandemic, the UK Government has committed to maintaining the platform to support the retention of key industry workers moving forward.
However, it is also essential to encourage the next generation to take up aviation jobs to ensure the sector has access to skills and resources as demand grows. To attract new talent, the British Government recently launched Talentview Aviation, a platform connecting students with aviation opportunities.
Likewise, it has appointed 12 new Aviation Ambassadors to encourage diversity and inclusion, who will work closely with the Civil Aviation Authority and businesses to inspire the next generation to start their careers in aviation.
“Fulfilling our ambitions for the aviation sector will require a skilled and diverse workforce who can support the range of opportunities and challenges facing the sector,” the report states. “This includes areas such as recovering from the pandemic, decarbonisation, and the emergence of new technologies.”
8. Leading in General Aviation
The report recognises the role of General Aviation (GA) – flights not involving commercial air transportation or aerial work – in the sector’s future success. GA supports a range of functions in the sector, such as providing flight training to those beginning their careers and protecting aviation’s heritage through world-renowned air shows.
The UK Government has outlined its plans for the future of GA in the GA Roadmap, which focuses on five key areas: policy development to support GA activity, regulation to improve safety, airfield protection, airspace reform, and incentivising skills and innovation.
Plans include appointing a new GA Advocate to support reform in the space, publishing guidance for Local Planning Authorities on the importance of GA, and encouraging uptake of safety technologies such as electronic conspicuity devices.
9. Improving the customer experience
Consumer confidence – crucial to the sector’s success – has been damaged by a small minority of operators during the pandemic, the report notes. To regain trust and provide greater protection to consumers, the government has launched a new consultation focused on reducing the burden on air transport consumers following a breach of their rights.
As part of its plans, the UK Government will also re-evaluate schemes such as the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing (ATOL) to ensure they provide adequate support and protection.
Building on the success of the Passenger Covid-19 Charter, the British Government has also worked with industry and consumer groups to develop the Aviation Passenger Charter, designed to provide clear guidance on rights and responsibilities to consumers travelling by air.
Efforts will also be made to improve the safety and efficiency of border processes. The UK Government has committed to developing a proof of concept for contactless travel based on biometric technology, for instance, which will remove friction from passenger journeys and prepare the UK for future pandemics.
10. Maintaining world-leading safety and security
Brexit will also provide opportunities for the UK to embrace innovations designed to improve safety and security, such as screening technologies. However, innovation will continue to be thoroughly regulated to maintain high standards.
The UK Government will continue to work with relevant authorities and organisations to update and develop regulations and measures to provide protection to workers and passengers – both domestically and internationally. This will be combined with “strong and deliberate action” should safety deficiencies arise that pose a threat to citizens, workers and infrastructure.
With the CAA’s role having evolved significantly in recent years due to challenges such as the pandemic, Brexit and decarbonisation, the British Government has confirmed plans for a full public body review to ensure that it has the resources and capabilities necessary to regulate the rapidly evolving aviation sector.
Piloting the UK Government’s plans for the future of aviation
The plans, promises and proposals outlined in the Flightpath to the Future report are ambitious and wide-ranging. To ensure this vision for the future of aviation is realised, the British Government will also create a new body, the Aviation Council, to oversee progress in the sector.
Jointly led by the Minister for Aviation and a senior industry figure, the body will bring together ministers, civil servants, and industry representatives to keep UK aviation on course towards a bright future.