AOA Annual Dinner speeches

At the AOA Annual Dinner, AOA Chair Ruby McGregor-Smith, AOA Chief Executive Karen Dee and the Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps MP spoke. A copy of the speeches are below.

Speech by Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith OBE, Chair of the Airport Operators Association

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 2020 AOA Annual Dinner. This is a very special evening for me – as this will be my first as AOA Chair.

As always, we are very grateful to our six Corporate Partners, who are the principal sponsors of this dinner. They are Leonardo, SITA, Thales, UK Power Networks Services, Vanderlande and Willis Towers Watson. We are most grateful for this sponsorship this evening.

As in previous years, we are running a raffle alongside a collection for the charity, Orbis. Many of you will be aware of the great work that Orbis does for blind people in the developing world; including through the Flying Eye Hospital. We hope that everyone will donate generously using the envelope on your table, adding your business cards. There will be a draw of the business cards later.

We are also very grateful to British Airways for providing two Club Europe tickets and the Grosvenor House Hotel for their complimentary night’s stay. We have raised over £100,000 for Orbis over the years at AOA dinners and I hope we can add significantly to that sum today.

I would like to formally welcome the Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, who will be our keynote speaker this evening. And I am absolutely delighted that the Aviation Minister, Kelly Tolhurst, is also with us on our top table.

As we gather here this evening, we meet in challenging, unprecedented times. First and foremost in our thoughts this evening are the excellent Flybe pilots, crew and staff. They gave their all for the airline and I hope that they find new roles in our industry soon.

The impact of the airline’s collapse, given its crucial role in the UK aviation industry, will be felt not just by the people working directly for Flybe but also by the airports that Flybe served, the regions that Flybe connected to the rest of the UK and the world and the many businesses, including tourism businesses, that relied on Flybe’s connectivity.

We also have the challenges of coronavirus and the impact that will have on the global economy and on our industry. We face the threat of the climate emergency that governments and businesses around the world still have to respond to. And finally, we leave the European Union on 31 December 2020.

However, whatever challenges we face, the aviation industry is still and will continue to be an incredible industry to be part of. I feel privileged to be chairing the AOA at such an important time.

Now I will hand over to the Chief Executive of the AOA, Karen Dee, to set out in more detail our positive agenda for growth and opportunity.

Speech by Karen Dee, Chief Executive of the Airport Operators Association

Thank you, Ruby, for that introduction. Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, it’s a privilege to stand here today to tell you of the plans we have at the AOA and soon Airports UK. Because a strong voice for UK airports is vital to create UK prosperity, level up the UK regions and continue to provide people across the UK with well-deserved breaks and chances to see friends and family in far-flung places.

Aviation is a global industry, affected by global issues, such as the outbreak of COVID-19. This requires not only an operational response from our industry in support of public health authorities everywhere, but also impacts our businesses as people think twice about travelling, even if public health advice does not suggest they do so. This is already having an impact on passenger numbers. That is why, together with the other aviation trade associations, we have asked the Chancellor to consider a six-month suspension of APD to enable airlines to get through this turbulent time and support their recovery over the summer when the virus’s impact is expected to decline.

Closer to home, the news that Flybe has gone into administration – in part due to lower bookings as a result of COVID-19, will hit UK airports hard. Flybe played a critical and unique role in the UK aviation system, supporting the development of the regions by providing essential connectivity that no other airline or other mode of transport offered. Many airports relied majorly on the routes they flew so airports responded positively and constructively to Flybe’s requests for support.

Ultimately, there was a major role for Government to take urgent action to safeguard vital domestic connectivity. We are extremely disappointed that the Government’s announcements in January of a review of Air Passenger Duty and Regional Air Connectivity saw little to no progress prior to Flybe’s renewed troubles in recent weeks.

Government now needs to step up to the plate to help UK regional airports recover from this major blow. The economic and social value of regional aviation connectivity is difficult to underestimate, with thousands of jobs in every UK region relying directly or indirectly on their local airports and their route networks. I’ve been heartened by recent statements from our Ministers and look forward to hearing from the Secretary of State of plans in this area.

In addition, the recent ruling on the Airports National Policy Statement brings into sharp focus the need for a clear statement from the Government that it believes that aviation growth can and should be accommodated, provided that it is achieved in line with the commitments that the UK has made on net zero. As an industry, we have stepped up to the plate and set out, in a world-first, how we can achieve a net zero future in line with the Committee on Climate Change’s view on aviation emissions. Indeed, Sustainable Aviation’s Decarbonisation Road-Map shows that we will have lower absolute emissions while accommodating the Department for Transport’s predicted 70% passenger growth than the CCC allowed for in its scenario planning.

It is now for Government to respond to this. Ultimately, the challenges I have outlined require a robust, long-term vision from Government on the role aviation has to play in the UK, particularly as we seek out new opportunities abroad outside the EU and renew our efforts to level up the UK regions.

After all, aviation enables other industry to flourish – from bring visitors to UK tourism destinations to helping companies export high-value products such as pharmaceuticals, electronics and UK speciality food products. Let’s not forget that for every 10% growth in aviation connectivity, economies grow by 0.5%, according to our European trade association ACI EUROPE.

Meeting growing demand for aviation across the UK is a major opportunity for airports, but we cannot do it alone. Capacity growth is only possible if Government provides us the framework to deliver the changes necessary to do so in a sustainable way – be that airspace modernisation, new terminals or even new runways. Similarly, it requires an aviation tax system that encourages growth rather than hampers the ability for airlines to operate routes successfully and competitively.

We also need close collaboration on improving surface access to airports, so those future passengers can get there quickly and seamlessly. Any lack of Government direction will lead to indecision and major delays to the necessary upgrades of our airspace and ground infrastructure. That lack of clear direction is already having an impact, with planning applications by a number of airports rejected as councils attempt to fill in the blanks themselves.

The long-awaited for Aviation Strategy needs a renewed impetus and clearly address give the UK that vision it needs. To help us grow connectivity, deliver the many social benefits aviation brings and create sustainable aviation jobs across the UK regions. I look forward to hearing from the Secretary of State how the Government will work in partnership with industry and at pace to give us the tools we need to be successful.

We stand ready to deliver our side of that partnership with Government. We do so with an increasingly diverse workforce. For example, women are now in charge at the AOA, responsible for aviation in the Department and indeed, East Midlands Airport is here tonight with all-women table of leaders in our industry. Nevertheless, we still fall short of reflecting in our sector the diversity that we see in our society. Through initiatives such as the Women in Aviation and Aerospace Charter, we are determined to take the necessary steps forward.

As I look ahead to the rest of 2020, I believe we can and will overcome the challenges of recent times and show the world that UK airports are at the forefront of the future in aviation. I want to thank you all for your role in the work that lies ahead, and I hope that you have an enjoyable evening.

Speech by the Secretary of State for Transport, the Rt Hon. Grant Shapps MP

Good evening. Thank you for that welcome. It’s a pleasure to join you. And a real privilege – as an aviation enthusiast – to speak at your Annual Dinner. So thanks to Karen and her team for inviting me.

And thank you all for making it this evening to celebrate everything that’s great about our aviation sector. An amazing turnout: actually filling one of the largest formal dining venues in Europe. You’ll be supplied with delicious food. The wine waiters will be constantly checking up to see if your glasses are filled. So don’t hold back. But do be aware of the staff in the lavatories. They’re secretly working for MI5 and are there to make sure you don’t nick any loo rolls.

We stand amid a testing time for aviation, but one that, together, I am certain we shall weather. And, if we continue to work together, fuelled by friendly competition, tempered by necessary co-operation. I am certain we can overcome the current turbulence for British and global aviation.

First, let me say a few words about the situation today. I want to thank the staff of FlyBe, the CAA, our new Aviation Minister Kelly Tolhurst and everyone involved in the operation managing a difficult few days. As you know, the government, along with industry partners, were engaged in attempts to find a commercially viable solution. However, the onset of the coronavirus proved one issue too many.

As we saw with Thomas Cook, no one company, no matter its pedigree or history, has a right to survive or place an undue burden on the taxpayer. It’s the competitive nature of the industry that benefits passengers and opens up air travel to all. Yet for employees and suppliers, the distress and uncertainty at a time like this can be wrenching. Which is why the government is providing support to help people find new jobs. We are working on a regional connectivity review to ensure no community has to wait too long before the connections they need are re-established. These individual episodes, however, are in danger of being overshadowed by a much larger crisis.

COVID-19 is having a dramatic impact across the sector. I am determined that the government, without prejudice to particular firms, does its bit to ensure that a random act of nature doesn’t undermine well managed businesses. On Friday last I wrote to the slots coordination body ACL, to request they rapidly examine the 80:20 slots issue which is proving so vexatious. It makes no sense, environmentally or financially, for airlines to be forced to fly ghost planes. This morning I followed this up by calling on the EU Commission to give this matter urgent attention – I look forward to a positive response.

Like industry colleagues, my officials at the department have been working tirelessly in recent weeks and months to help support the sector. As we meet here tonight, I want to let you know that I understand the enormity of what you are facing, and this Government will stand by your side. I know the prosperity of your sector and our country, are, after all, intertwined.

Beyond the immediate term, there are other challenges. Whether it’s the Court of Appeal’s decision on airport expansion, or our departure from the EU and its institutions, we will work together to find solutions. We will overcome these immediate challenges and we will then go on to overcome perhaps the great challenge of all.

That is the challenge of decarbonising our planet. The UK has voted to reach Net Zero by 2050 and, as you know, aviation will have to do its part. This is no mean feat while maintaining, and indeed improving, living standards. And this mission is particularly challenging in the context of aviation.

Now let me say at the outset which side I am on. I do not believe, like some, that Net Zero requires us to retreat from progress. To succumb to some Malthusian doctrine; to lower our sights; to live a little less. No. I believe that the answer lies where it has always lain: in our ingenuity, in the creative genius of our engineers and in the dynamism of our economy. I am confident in our ability to meet the challenge ahead.

I am also mindful of the scale of that challenge. But you are responding. You’re responding with a level of excellence unparalleled among our global competitors. From the pioneering work of UK firm Velosys in greener aviation fuels, to the development of electric flight at Cranfield with Airbus. Or the 300 mph electric plane unveiled in Gloucestershire by Rolls Royce. Together with billions of pounds of government support for research and development, and your sustainable aviation 2050 Road Map, which I was pleased to help launch last month, this country can once again be on the crest of a new wave of aviation technology. Working together, government and industry, we can overcome seemingly impregnable barriers.

And in the next few weeks I will be saying more about my proposals to join up government and industry work to give British aviation a head start.

Aviation is by its very nature is dynamic. Your outlook is global, ambitious and entrepreneurial. And I know that even as we meet this evening, facing challenges on a truly global scale, we will prevail, come out stronger, with you and this sector leading the world once again.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for all you are doing and have a fun evening – thank you.