Industry leaders rebut Ryanair attack on ‘useless’ Aviation Council

Senior industry figures have rejected Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary’s criticism of the Aviation Council and vowed to remain on the joint government-industry body.

O’Leary resigned from the Aviation Council last month, calling it a “talking shop” and “a waste of time” following a meeting on July 11.

In his resignation letter, O’Leary accused aviation minister Baroness Vere who chairs the council of a “lamentable absence of any action” and told her: “You have delivered zero action and no practical measures.”

At the meeting on July 11, O’Leary said: “Baroness Vere proposed a working group comprised of the Department for Transport [DfT] and CAA to promote UK airspace ‘modernisation’.

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“This body won’t even report until April 2024, and the DfT has failed to provide any funding to deliver this reform.”

O’Leary suggested Baroness Vere “should disband this useless Council”.

UK airlines are keen for the modernisation of airspace, not just here but across Europe, to reduce delays and cut fuel use, emissions and flying times.

EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren said: “We are impatient. We want to see changes happen quicker. [But] we’re still on the Aviation Council.

“The intentions of the government are right. We’re encouraged by what the government wants to do.”

Dale Keller, chief executive of the UK Board of Airline Representatives (BAR-UK) who sits on the council, noted: “The Aviation Council is not a delivery body.”

He said: “There is frustration over airspace modernisation and how long it’s taking. But there are fixed processes of consultation that are difficult to speed up.

“Strategic issues not short-term fixes. Airspace can’t be changed from one month to the next.”

Keller added: “The industry asked for the council. We’re committed to remaining on it and hopeful it will deliver.”

Abta director of public affairs Luke Petherbridge agreed, saying: “There is a desire to see progress, but Aviation Council members are discussing long-term and complex issues.

“If you take airspace modernisation or planning for future industry skills and workforce needs, they’re not topics where new policy could ever have been developed and implemented within six months of the Council launching.”

Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer is a council member and Petherbridge said: “If you’re not part of the council, you lose the chance to have a voice and to use the forum to shape government priorities.

“We would be doing our members a disservice if Abta chose not to participate.”

As well as Baroness Vere, Tanzer, Lundgren and Deller, Aviation Council members include Gatwick chief executive Stewart Wingate who is co-chair, British Airways chief executive Sean Doyle, Jet2 chief executive Steve Heapy, Virgin Atlantic chief executive Shai Weiss, Airlines UK chief executive Tim Alderslade, Iata UK and Ireland manager Simon McNamara, CAA interim co-chief executive Paul Smith, and Karen Dee, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association.

It also includes the heads of Heathrow, Luton airport and Manchester Airports Group, the head of air traffic control body NATS, senior figures at the Department for Transport, Border Force, the Department for Culture, the Department for Business and Trade, and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and representatives of the Devolved Administrations for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

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