Rt. Hon. Sir Robert Atkins, MEP (North West) and Conservative Spokesman on Transport, again demanded that the European Commission and the British Government act immediately to assist the aviation industry with the huge and necessary increase in security needed after the US catastrophe and the urgent need to restore public confidence in flying.

Sir Robert was speaking at an international public hearing, instituted by the Transport Committee of the European Parliament, at which were present experts from the Association of European Airlines, the Airports Council International and various other professional organisations.

"They all are desperate for their industry - whether passengers, aircrew or general employees - and they feel that EU Governments and the European Commission are letting them down" he commented. "The US Government - no fan of State subsidy - recognises the special problems of war risk and terrorism insurance and security costs and have made $18 billion available to their aviation industry. The EU must at least match that active concern in proportionate terms. Airlines are threatened throughout the EU, as are regional airports and the jobs consequent upon both."

Sir Robert, a former Aerospace Minister, also referred to the ancillary industries - such as aircraft manufacturers, catering and cleaning companies and, of course, tourism - which are so dependent on airports and airlines. "British tourism has suffered immeasurably already, following BSE and Foot & Mouth, especially in Cumbria, and the Government has not even claimed the resources available from the EU that could help rebuild local economies," he said.

The North West MEP then made a number of proposals to assist British airlines to restore public confidence in aviation:

1. Protection of slots for airlines that have assumed routes dropped by ailing or bankrupt companies (Sabena, Swissair, etc)

2. Specific time-limited - but urgent - financial assistance to meet the costs of the 7-day closure of US airspace, to defray the substantial increase in War Risk insurance and the costs of tighter security.

3. Development of the British Transport Police into a highly visible security force to protect airports and aircraft and to manage passenger and baggage screening.

4. Immediate review of outstanding health issues such as Deep Vein Thrombosis, "recycled" cabin air, rear-facing seats, shopping on arrival rather than departure, to reduce cabin accidents, and other such concerns.

5. Early implementation of the "Single European Sky" to address congestion and delays.

"There is a wide unanimity in the European Parliament" Sir Robert concluded, "even amongst Labour MEPs, that urgent action is required by the Governments of Member States. The alternative is the collapse of airlines, the loss of tens of thousands of jobs and the deterioration in the quality and freedom of air travel. So I say to the British Government, stop fiddling whilst the airline industry burns and help put out the fire!"

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