If the government takes a majority stake in our airlines it will put us and our climate on a path to recovery

We can start the process to guide the sector’s transition to permanently lower passenger numbers, writes Alex Chapman

Tuesday 19 May 2020 08:23 BST

After weeks of heated debate, British Airways’ refusal even to pause its redundancy drive should be the final straw for such a heavily subsidised sector. The company has decided to press ahead with cutbacks that could result in 12,000 job losses.

Seldom is the British public as kind to a sector of the economy as it is to aviation today. Tax breaks, in the form of exemption from VAT and fuel duty, are the most longstanding of our generosities. Even when Air Passenger Duty (the tax per ticket which airlines pay to the government) is factored in, we’re cutting airlines a lucrative, bespoke tax deal worth billions. On top of this, aviation is exempt from worrying about our legally-binding carbon reduction targets.

Given this context, you might expect some humility from the industry’s handsomely-paid CEOs and shareholders, but across the sector, exploitative employment practices proliferate. Outsourcing in particular has been used to drive down wages and working conditions for airline employees. Both airlines (like Virgin Atlantic), and the companies they lease their planes from, base their parent companies in tax havens where they can avoid corporation tax. CEO salaries and pay-outs to shareholders continue to grow out of all proportion, reaching almost £600m at BA in 2019.

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