I was delighted to welcome Aviation Minister Robert Courts MP to East Devon last week to visit Exeter Airport, Exeter Aerospace and the new Future Skills Centre.
The Minister and I have had frequent exchanges on the Transport Select Committee to discuss the local support needed after the collapse of Flybe a little over two years ago. The picture is brighter now. Exeter Aerospace has moved from Dublin. They offer maintenance to regional aeroplanes and have created 100 highly-skilled jobs.
It’s really paying off. On the visit, I spoke with several former Flybe employees who have been able to continue working in the aviation sector locally. Others have found jobs with other airlines now operating from Exeter Airport, too.
It was great to witness flights taking off and landing with the buzz of people travelling once again, after a difficult period for the sector because of the pandemic and international travel restrictions. The Minister was impressed with operations at the airport and credit should go to Chief Executive Stephen Wiltshire and his team for turning it around.
The new Future Skills Centre, under the stewardship of Exeter College Principal John Laramy, offers excellent learning opportunities for all ages. I met aspiring apprentices and students gaining real, hands-on-experience. It was truly inspiring and I could tell every student was excited about the opportunities ahead.
People sometimes email me saying that if we want to go green then there is no point in regional airports like Exeter. I believe this is wide of the mark. You only have to look at the departures on offer to see why – from Edinburgh to Corfu. Each one saves a trip to fly from Gatwick or Heathrow.
And last summer Exeter Airport hosted the world’s first hybrid electric test flight on a commercial route.
The survival of regional aviation is critical. That’s why Exeter Airport is looking at exciting proposals to connect energy supply, scientific research, maritime, and aviation. We need to see high-skilled, high-wage jobs across the South West. The aviation industry is absolutely key to help make this ambition a reality.
This column first appeared in the Exmouth Journal on Wednesday 11th May 2022 and in the Sidmouth Herald and Midweek Herald later in the week.
Picture for news item: Robert Courts MP and Simon Jupp MP at Exeter Aerospace with a trainee engineer. Picture credit: Exeter College.