MPs have criticised ministers for not taking action over British Airways’ controversial employment practices and described the Government’s quarantine regime as providing ‘further barriers to travel’.
The Transport Select Committee has published the Department for Transport’s (DfT) response to its report, The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the aviation sector, including the outline of a forthcoming strategy for the recovery of the sector.
Committee chair Huw Merriman MP said publication of an aviation recovery plan was welcome but added that it ‘cannot come quick enough for a sector devastated by the impact of coronavirus’.
He added: ‘Our report expressed a desire to see more pace and detail on Government action to address the crisis. We await the Government’s aviation recovery plan and will look carefully at how Government intends to deal with some of the specific points in our report.’
Mr Merriman added: ‘British Airways’ (BA) fire and rehire policy has rightly attracted criticism from government ministers and the prime minister himself. It is disappointing that direct legislative action has not been enacted to make this type of action unlawful.’
Having called British Airways’ (BA) treatment of its staff 'a national disgrace', the committee noted that the DfT’s response described the airline’s approach as ‘commercial decisions' and said it was 'ultimately down to private business to decide’.
The committee noted that Alex Cruz, chairman and CEO of BA, will appear before it next Wednesday (16 September).
Mr Merriman said: ‘The Government’s quarantine regime, coupled by a refusal to endorse airport testing to reduce the quarantine period, adds further barriers to travel. Whilst the Government’s approach can be argued for on health grounds, it also further justifies the committee’s original call for the Government to provide a sector deal to support our ailing aviation industry and its workforce.’
On the issue of passenger refunds, Mr Merriman said the Civil Aviation Authority needs more teeth to protect consumers. He said: ‘I am sympathetic to the plight of the airline industry, but the pressures of this pandemic does not excuse how some customers have been treated.’
The committee said that in relation to its recommendation that Air Passenger Duty payments should be temporarily suspended it noted that the chancellor has announced a consultation on aviation tax reform.
It also noted that while the Government contends that it is legally prevented from intervening in the slot allocation process the DfT’s response indicates that ministers are considering the need for reform.
Mr Merriman said: ‘The Government says the recovery plan will “consider the role of the slot system in rebuilding a competitive aviation sector” – I look forward to hearing how ministers plan to set out their preferred means of reform.’
In its Interim Report, the Airport Commission cite the ‘very limited’ scope for policy levers such as slot allocation to redistribute demand away from airports in South East as a key reason behind its backing for Heathrow expansion.