Analysis: Manifestos of three main parties include few pledges on travel

Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems fail to unveil any meaningful policies related to sector in pre-election statements, reports Ian Taylor

Aviation and travel are largely absent from the election manifestos of the UK’s three main political parties published last week.

The Conservative manifesto mentions aviation only in passing in its proposals on climate change when it pledges to “rule out any frequent-flyer levy”.


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The Labour manifesto has little more to say, promising only that: “Labour will secure UK aviation’s long-term future, including through promoting sustainable aviation fuels and encouraging airspace modernisation.”

The party makes a general commitment to promote “a pro-business environment” and a pledge, which may please high street businesses, “to level the playing field between the high street and online giants” by “replacing the business rates system” in England.

By contrast, the Liberal Democrat manifesto pledges “steps to reduce demand for flying”, proposing both a tax on frequent flyers and “a new supertax” on private jets.

The Lib Dems also propose to apply VAT to first-class and business-class flights and to ban domestic flights where a rail service taking 2.5 hours or less is available – mirroring a policy introduced in France a year ago.

In addition, the party opposes expanding Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, Stansted or London City airports and would place a moratorium on airport expansion until “a national capacity and emissions management framework” is in place – in line with a recommendation of the Climate Change Committee which advises the government.

The Lib Dems would also require airlines to show the carbon emissions for domestic flights alongside the rail equivalent.

Karen Dee, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, responded sharply to the Lib Dem proposals, insisting they would “undermine the UK’s competitiveness while doing little to address the decarbonisation of air travel”.

She suggested “more detail is required” of the Labour commitments and described the Tory manifesto as “disappointing” despite “a number of positive measures”.

The industry will face a post-election challenge as it will need to engage not only with a new government but also a substantially new and inexperienced parliament, with 126 MPs standing down and a swathe of Tory MPs expected to lose their seats.

Those standing down include Henry Smith, outgoing MP for Crawley and chair of the All‑Party Parliamentary Group on the Future of Aviation.

A senior industry representative said: “Henry has been a great champion for the industry and will be sorely missed. But there are others looking to step forward, notably in the House of Lords.”

A second industry source said: “We’ll go into an intense period after the summer. We’ll be dealing with new people and there will need to be a lot of engagement, bringing people up to speed. Getting aviation on the table is going to be difficult. The new secretary of state for transport will have road and rail on their plate and aviation is seen as ‘doing OK’.”

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