The UK Government and European Commission have agreed in principle that the two sides should negotiate a comprehensive air transport agreement. The Department is working closely with the aviation sector to ensure its requirements are factored into negotiations. The Department’s aviation technical notices and the European Commission’s published plans for aviation contingency preparations, alongside proposed EU regulations published on 19 December, clearly demonstrate that, in a no-deal scenario, both sides are committed to maintaining aviation connectivity.
I thank the Secretary of State for his response to my question. What is the Department’s estimate of the effect of leaving the EU on the opportunities for the thousands currently employed in the aviation sector as apprentices?
I think that the aviation sector will continue to grow and develop as it has in recent years. We will continue to have connections across Europe, as we do at the moment, and, of course, with the plans for the expansion of Heathrow airport, there will be a real opportunity for apprenticeships in the sector and to open up new routes around the world, for example to emerging markets in Asia. I see the next 10 years as ones of great opportunity for the aviation sector.
The EU’s contingency arrangements are welcome, but what estimate has the Secretary of State made of the prospects for airports such as Bournemouth that want to increase their routes to Europe over the next year?
The European Union has said that it wants to keep flights at the current levels, and I suspect that they will find that that is not a universally held view among member states.
I am sure that the Secretary of State can chew gum and walk at the same time, so while he is dealing with future viability with our leaving the EU, will he also deal with the current crisis over drones affecting airports? May I give him the opportunity to answer the questions that he did not answer earlier in the week? Were contingency plans agreed with the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office to protect our airports from drone incidents and others, and if not, why not? Were such plans not activated in time because of dithering? Why did they not work? Was that the fault of the Secretary of State’s Department, the Ministry of Defence, the Home Office or, indeed, the Cabinet Office?
Order. I listened to the right hon. Gentleman’s question with great interest. It was tangential to the substantive question, and I just say gently to him that I had been thinking of offering him an Adjournment debate on the matter, until I realised that he had, in fact, just conducted one.
Indeed he has, Mr Speaker.
I would simply remind the right hon. Gentleman of two factors. First, the disruptive attack at Gatwick was unprecedented anywhere in the world, and as a result we have been approached by airports around the world to learn more about how we tackled that. Secondly, as I have said, I am not able to discuss in the House the nature of the technology used for security reasons, but when a similar issue arose at Heathrow earlier this week, the response was very rapid indeed.
Does the Secretary of State agree that regional air connectivity within the UK is a priority as we leave the EU? Can he remind operators such as British Airways that reducing routes from Aberdeen International airport in my constituency disrupts business and leisure travel?
I agree with my hon. Friend, and that is why we have put down a clear requirement that as Heathrow expands a proportion of its capacity is set aside for regional connectivity within the United Kingdom. It is really important that an expanded Heathrow is a gateway for the whole United Kingdom to opportunities around the world, as well as within the country.
I chair the parliamentary air safety group, and I know a little about the aviation sector. During consideration of a statutory instrument upstairs recently, I challenged a Minister to tell me which chief executive or chair of any airline he had talked to about this subject. I have talked to them, and they are terrified of the impact of a no-deal Brexit. He could not name one.
I have talked to the chief executives of every major UK airline. I have also talked to representatives of a significant number of international airlines.
As the Secretary of State has spoken to the chief executives, he will of course be aware of their concerns about the contingency agreement only allowing for a freeze in the services of British airlines as they stand at the moment . What reassurances can he give airports such as Edinburgh that this will not in fact be the case, and that expansion will happen should we have to leave the EU?
The hon. Lady says, “should we have to leave the EU”. The country has already voted to leave the EU and we will next week vote on an agreement that would continue current aviation arrangements. If she is concerned about the contingency plans put in place by the European Union, will she join the Government in the Division Lobby next week to support the agreement?
Can the Secretary of State further outline discussions held with Belfast City and Belfast International airports to secure enhanced trading routes post March, and to evaluate what changes the airports may have to make?
I have had regular conversations with the leadership of the Belfast airports. Working with them in several areas, I want to see them expand their international flights. More flights are, of course, being planned for next summer, and I hope and believe that they have a strong and prosperous future with better links around the world.
The Prime Minister’s deal looks dead and we could well be heading into the chaos of a no-deal Brexit. If that is the case, we will no longer be a member of the European Aviation Safety Agency. Given that we do not currently have a bilateral air safety agreement with the US, can the Secretary of State give a guarantee that in the event of no deal there will be no disruption to flights?
Yes. The Civil Aviation Authority has been working for well over a year to ensure that in the event that we do not continue as a member of EASA we have a properly functional British alternative.