Monday, 25 June 2012

Grounded by out-of-date policy

I am waiting for the next stage of the Department for Trade and Industry (DfT) consultation into aviation policy. The problem the DfT faces is huge swathes of conflicting advice from a wide range of people with different perspectives and often vested interests. This is a prime example where trying to compromise between the parties will lead to a hotchpotch of failed policy. The politicians and their advisors need to look at priorities and establish some principles. I suggest three principles:

1. Delivers a better aviation industry that serves the needs of society;
2. Allows the UK to have a big role in the development of the next generation of air vehicles;
3. Reduces the environmental impact of aviation with policy that is fit for mid 21st century.

My credentials for suggesting the basis of UK aviation policy is that I can wear, simultaneously, the three hats required: The economic and business perspective is one hat; the environmentalist is another and the third is the hard hat of the engineer. The shape of each hat is different.

 The economic and business cap has flaps on both sides that blinker the view of the wider issues and a low brim that stops you seeing more than the first few steps in front of you. The wearer of this hat blunders into policy with a very clear view of the short-term economic perspective. Wearers of this hat are often vocal and loud and look faintly ridiculous from the perspective of those around them that see the bigger picture.

The environmentalists wear a soft hat overgrown with foliage to such an extent that the green leaves obscure the view. Wearers of this hat see a patchwork view of the world in which flying should be rationed in some way or even banned without seeing fully the resistance that this approach generates.

The aeronautical engineers wear a helmet with a clear view in all directions but it is enclosed in a full visor so no one else can hear what they are saying. The engineers wearing this hard hat are forced to focus on 20th century aviation technology because the new 21st century technologies are not financially viable in the current policy framework.

Being a proponent of the capacity of business to implement change, and an environmentalist, and an engineer, I wear a special hat that allows a clear view in all directions. It is topped by a bit of green foliage, is strong enough to stand a few knocks and allows me the freedom to focus on real solutions. The principles I propose are hard to dispute. First, we should want a better aviation industry that serves the needs of society. Second, it makes sense that we plan a key role for UK industry. Third, in an industry with long lead times and high levels of investment it is crucial that we set now policy that is fit for the middle of this century when the air vehicles now being designed will still be flying.

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