The bosses of six airports in the north of England have called on the government to back the sector with tailored support in next week’s Budget.

In a rare joint plea, the airports urged the prime minister to “recognise the importance of aviation and travel to his levelling-up and global Britain ambitions, by providing the direct financial support needed to protect the industry until it is able to fully re-open”.

The letter has been signed by Manchester Airport, Carlisle Lake District Airport, Leeds Bradford Airport, Liverpool John Lennon Airport,  Doncaster Sheffield Airport and Newcastle International Airport.

Collectively, the airports handled nearly 50 million passengers in 2019, supported more than 200,000 jobs and generated around £14 billion for the economy of the north.

They have called for options to be considered including:

  • Relief from fixed costs paid to government
  • A sector-specific extension of the furlough scheme
  • Measures to boost the sector by reducing the cost of travel and spurring on northern aviation, including reducing taxes levied on passengers

Karen Smart, managing director of Manchester Airport, said: “It is clear for all to see the havoc the pandemic has wreaked on our sector, with tens of thousands of jobs lost already.

“While this week’s recovery plan from the prime minister includes a welcome target for the reopening of our industry, there is still much uncertainty over what this will mean in practice and it could still be many months before our airports begin welcoming passengers back through their doors.

“With airports across the north still facing uncertainty and difficult decisions over the coming months, it is absolutely critical that the chancellor recognises the unique impact the pandemic continues to have on aviation when setting out his budget next week.”

Smart added: “Having already lost one summer season, we are now heading towards summer ’21 facing yet another review into how our industry might restart, and the prospect of a system that could continue to restrict travel.

“The recent surge in bookings reported by airlines proves the demand is there, but the government needs to help realise that potential without delay, by working with industry to build on the measures already developed to keep passengers safe, without further undermining consumer confidence.”

“Failure to get this right risks further long-lasting damage to the communities our airports serve and the prospects of a full and balanced UK recovery.

“This means supporting northern airports and the vital connectivity they provide. If they don’t, ministers run the risk of damaging the prospects of the northern economy for years to come.”

Meanwhile, the business travel arm of the Advantage Travel Partnership has also reiterated calls for Budget support, saying business travel must be considered separately to leisure travel.

Abby Penston, chief executive of the Focus Travel Partnership, said: “The added value and duty of care that travel management companies (TMCs) offer their corporate clients is at a premium now.

“While they continue to assist businesses travellers through the complexities of moving around the globe, they have adapted to the changing landscape and also hold the key to a return to responsible travel which in turn will kick start the economy and a return to normality.

“The prime minister’s roadmap is a positive sign that recovery is on the horizon but support for the business travel sector is still needed right now.”

She added: “Although our sector has been managing travel throughout the pandemic, it is a completely different beast to leisure, and while it is not illegal to travel for business purposes, the concerns for the wellbeing of travel teams and the costs of testing and quarantine put the brakes on most travel for work, so logically we will experience a lag to meaningful recovery.

“Duty of care will be a key driver when companies deploy their teams domestically and internationally, alongside the bureaucratic red tape that we know we will all have to consider.

“In the Budget, the government needs to revaluate the processes they have put into play and extend the furlough and other financial support.

“As important as it is for our mental wellbeing to be able to travel for leisure needs, it is vital for the economy that we travel again for professional purposes.”

Elsewhere, the All Party-Parliamentary Group for the Future of Aviation is calling for the extension of furlough until the end of 2021, and a “comprehensive financial support package” for the aviation, travel and tourism industries.

It is also calling for the creation of an Airport Communities Resilience Fund’by HM Treasury to support local authorities in airport areas and to provide job and employment support to those impacted by the pandemic.

The group’s analysis of unemployment statistics that shows that communities around airports are being hardest hit by the impacts of the pandemic.

Nationally, the number of people claiming unemployment-related benefits rose by 112% nationally between January 2020 and January 2021 with the constituencies containing the UK’s top 20 airports seeing unemployment rise by 145%.

Henry Smith MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Future of Aviation, said: “With continuing travel restrictions adding further delay to aviation’s recovery, without a continuation of the Job Retention Scheme, we run the very real risk that these figures will continue to increase.

“The pandemic has been disastrous for our aviation, travel and tourism communities and the chancellor must use the upcoming Budget to provide the support they desperately need.”