Our communities around UK airports are devastated | Steve Curran and Henry Smith | Opinion

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All over Britain, the financial and social impact of Covid-19 is being felt. Across the country, entire industries have been affected and businesses large and small have been forced to shut down.Hardest hit, however, have been the communities around the airports – those areas that supply their local airport workers, who depend on the terminals, hangars and the economy that has developed around it, for them. jobs and prosperity. Suddenly, with the onset of the pandemic and the global collapse of air travel, that lifeline has been drastically reduced.

It has worsened since then. Aviation is unlikely to return to anything like its previous levels, not even with the advent of a vaccine, not in the short term. The damage may well be permanent.

The immediate effects were devastating. Our two communities, Hounslow in West London and Crawley in Sussex, have the terrible distinction of leading the national rankings for the number of workers on leave and unemployed.

In Hounslow, near Heathrow, and Crawley near Gatwick, 40% of our workforce was supported by the state at the end of the summer. This number is likely to worsen. The same is true for parts of Birmingham, Essex, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Teesside, Newcastle and Glasgow and other districts where there are concentrations of airport workers.

Every day brings news of new aviation layoffs and closures. A total of 733,000 jobs in and connected to international and regional airports in Great Britain are threatened by a prolonged slowdown in air traffic.

Much attention, of course, is devoted to airlines and aircrews, as well as retail chains whose revenues have been decimated. What is often forgotten is the auxiliary staff. Little mention is made of support workers, including cleaners, mechanics, attendants, drivers, waiters and kitchen staff, who work behind the scenes in the service of airlines, caterers, hangars, shops, bars, restaurants, hotels, lounges and carriers that make up a modern airport.

And not just them, but the myriad of small, medium and large companies that thrive around an airport and rely on it for business. Normally, they all help support the local economy.

Many of these jobs are low-skilled and pay low wages. Many of those who practice them belong to the younger and older age groups of the workforce. Many, too, come from BAME communities. They will probably have a hard time finding another suitable job.

Hounslow commissioned a study from Oxford Economics on the cost to its economy of the Heathrow crisis. Its experts put the total at £ 1 billion. This bill will be repeated, pro rata, to other shaken aviation communities.

It’s not just a financial loss – the downturn in air travel will mean increased social, health and mental health problems, as well as crime. Hounslow has witnessed a 200% increase in domestic violence cases since the start of the epidemic. These are also places that are feeling the widespread devastation of Covid – their main streets are hemorrhaging, as elsewhere in Britain.

This aviation crisis isn’t going to end immediately – air travel, industry leaders predict, is not facing a rapid rebound. Passenger volumes are not expected to return to their 2019 levels until 2023 at the earliest, while air freight will likely take longer.

These communities faced uncertainty even before the advent of the coronavirus. Environmental concerns hold back airport expansion and future employment prospects.

That is why, from Hounslow and Crawley, we are coming together with other affected areas to host the first Aviation Communities Summit on Tuesday, November 24 – to assess the economic and social damage and call on the government to create a fund for aviation communities . to meet immediate and longer term needs. It is interparty, apolitical. At stake is the future well-being of hundreds of thousands of people.

We need to equip people with the skills they need to seek out new opportunities. In the light of this ongoing disaster, the various programs aimed at learning and providing adult education programs should be reviewed, possibly consolidated and better adapted to future needs.

The provision of infrastructure in these areas should be reassessed and, if necessary, rebalanced, to reflect the changing economic landscape. We have to focus on attracting new businesses, new investments, which are not so dependent on aviation.

None of this, we know, will be cheap. We therefore plan to explore a funding mechanism, once air transport is restored, that could be used for the benefit of communities as part of a major upgrade initiative.

These positive and proactive suggestions, along with others, are what we – the UK communities so dependent on our airports – would like to explore, starting with the unprecedented summit with the government and our stakeholders.

Cllr Steve Curran is the Labor Party leader of Hounslow’s council and Henry Smith is the Conservative MP for Crawley

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