New aviation minister Robert Courts gave a limited response to a withering attack by MPs on the government’s failure to do more to support the industry today.
Courts acknowledged UK aviation had been “badly impacted” by the Covid pandemic, but told MPs: “The government is clear that aviation will recover and will play a key role in pushing our economy forward.”
Responding to a backbench debate on aviation, Courts insisted: “Airlines, airports and ground handlers have benefited from considerable taxpayers’ support.”
And he argued: “We introduced the air corridors scheme while other countries kept their borders closed.”
Courts added: “The government does understand the scale of adjustment the aviation sector has been forced to make.”
However, he gave no response to MPs’ demands to introduce a Covid-testing regime for travellers or to demands for additional business support.
Courts, who replaced Kelly Tolhurst as aviation minister on September 9, ran out of time to respond to the two-hour debate, saying only: “Testing is a matter I would like to speak about.”
He had listened to a host of senior politicians criticise the government.
Former Prime Minister Theresa May said: “If you want to get the economy moving again, get planes flying. If you want to get planes flying, get testing.”
Former transport secretary Chris Grayling agreed, telling MPs: “I can’t understand why we’re not at least trialing testing on a number of routes.”
Paul Maynard MP, a former transport minister, urged the government “to test people before they board – half an hour before check-in. If they test positive, they would not be allowed to board. It’s simple.”
A succession of MPs also attacked British Airways for making more than 12,000 redundancies and making swingeing cuts to pay.
Huw Merriman, chair of the aviation select committee, said: “There is a perception the pandemic provided an excuse for BA to do what it already planned.”
He urged the government to look at reallocating BA slots at Heathrow.
Tory MP for Beaconsfield Joy Morrissy described BA’s behaviour as “shocking” and suggested: “We should look at companies keeping the highest proportion of UK employees in jobs and award [airport] slots accordingly.”
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