29 NOVEMBER 2021


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Article from BTNews 29 NOVEMBER 2021

COMMENT: John Holland-Kaye, CEO, Heathrow Airport *

The Air League Sir Andrew Humphrey Memorial Lecture.

John Holland-Kaye is familiar to most BTN readers having literally not only flown the flag for Britain’s airports during the Covid-19 crisis, but in many ways for all commercial aviation. Even Willie Walsh, Director General, International Air Transport Association (IATA), until 2020 CEO of International Airlines Group (IAG), might agree with that.

On 8 November Holland-Kaye welcomed Sean Doyle, Chairman and CEO, British Airways, and Shai Weiss, CEO, Virgin Atlantic Airways, to Heathrow. He is now in an argument with the same carriers over Heathrow’s future charges.  One would hope that a compromise can be found that is right for the airlines, airports and most important of all, us the travellers.

The annual Air League Sir Andrew Humphrey Memorial Lecture, at the Royal Aeronautical Society, commemorates a Chief of the Air Staff who passed away at the age of 57.  Amongst the many distinguished aviators who have given the lecture over the years was his Royal Highness, the late Prince Phillip Duke of Edinburgh.

Holland-Kaye’s reprise last Wednesday (24 November) totalled 7,500 words and ran for 30 minutes covering the UK’s future aviation strategy, sustainability and recovery. The large audience was made up of young people starting their careers in the world of aviation, plus a good sprinkling of more senior persons deeply involved in the industry.

He noted that just two weeks ago he stood at the heart of Heathrow helping British passengers check-in for their first flights to the US in over 600 days.

“The last time this lecture was delivered, the world was a very different place. It’s easy to forget now, but rewind the clock to 24 November 2019 and no one had heard of social distancing, there wasn’t a worry that supermarket shelves might not be stocked with supplies and even contemplating the grounding of a few hundred flights, let alone the global fleet, would have seemed unfathomable. Aviation – and UK commercial aviation in particular – was on a high. Record passenger numbers, growing cargo volumes, strong investment and dedicated colleagues had all come together aligned on the centre line of the runway, engines were set to go, the throttle was being thrust forward and we were on the cusp of lifting the global economy into take-off.”

He took us through four key areas that he believes the aviation industry will need to adapt to continue to play its full role in society – carbon, future investment, skills and Britain’s future place in the world and reminded the audience, that aviation is a force for good in the world and the unity demonstrated over the past two years is a powerful force that we should harness and build on.  

“75 years ago, someone somewhere had the brilliant idea to open Heathrow. We grew from a few military tents on the Bath Road into a global powerhouse for British aviation, boosting the livelihoods of people right across London and the UK, connecting people and cultures from around the world giving Britain the trading infrastructure to thrive at the heart of the global economy.   

“We have faced some of the darkest days in our sector’s history over the past two years, but we should not be discouraged. Every industry needs to adapt for the future, and they need to do it now – the aviation industry is not an exception. But what we have that makes us unique is a proud history of being on the cutting edge of innovation and technologic change, of passionate people determined to go farther, faster who push the boundaries of the possible. Right now, we have an open door in front of us to reinvigorate the UK’s aviation industry for the next 75 years. The consequences of the choices we make in the next few years will determine if future generations of Britons will continue to enjoy the full benefits of a vibrant aviation industry.”  

Holland-Kaye summarised:

  • Keep the pressure up on decarbonising the sector. We need a mandate for 10% SAF use by 2030, Government funding to scale-up production and an agreement at ICAO next year for net zero by 2050 
  • Protect investment in passenger services to maintain Britain’s world-leading aviation status and drive investment in scaling-up sustainable aviation fuels with contracts for difference and a price support mechanism
  • Build a diverse skills pipeline of future aviation leaders who will pick-up the controls of our sector in the decades to come
  • Secure Britain’s place in the world with a clear aviation strategy that makes trading and travelling through our airports more efficient, aggressively pursues increased global connectivity and ensures every part of the UK has guaranteed access to Heathrow

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Gillian Smyth, London

How do the airport charges really compare? Can someone tell me?