While the anti-airport lobby has considerable political strength in Uttlesford, it would be sick-minded of anyone to feel schadenfreude over the massive loss of jobs as the coronavirus outbreak forces the airline industry to grind to a halt.

The demise of Flybe, which was pushed out of business at the early stages of the pandemic, is a harbinger of problems to come. Ryanair has announced a network-wide reduction in flying with staff on enforced unpaid leave and easyJet has announced the majority of its fleet will be grounded. While these airlines may not share Flybe’s fate, redundancies now seem inevitable and loss of income is certain.

Our local economy revolves around Stansted Airport with more than 2,500 workers in the district directly depending on aviation for their livelihoods, representing more than one in five on-site workers at the airport.

Charlie Cornish, Chief Executive Officer of Stansted Airport’s owners, the Manchester Airport Group, said on Tuesday: “Over the next few days we will be consulting with our colleagues and unions and introducing measures to reduce our costs and preserve the Group’s resources at this critical time.

“These will include enforced annual leave, reduced working hours, temporary pay cuts and temporary lay-offs. 

“We are seeing many of our airlines and supply chain partners make similar announcements and we are doing what we need to do in the face of an unpredictable and fast-moving situation.”

A pilot has told me that several hundred Ryanair and easyJet crew staff have already been laid off. They stand to lose income and possibly lose their jobs and homes, which in turn will plunge families into poverty, requiring social housing and support from Uttlesford District Council.

Many local jobs and businesses also depend on providing airport-related services, from taxi firms and hospitality to logistics and engineering. They will suffer, creating a ripple effect through the community that will hit shops.

The government has to act immediately to support our local workers. The British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) has called on the government to push for EU restrictions on slot allocations to be lifted, so that airlines do not have to operate unnecessary ‘ghost flights’ – a measure that all environmentalists would also welcome. Airlines cannot survive a two-month shutdown without assistance through the crisis.

Uttlesford District Council should utilise its £1.66 million Strategic Initiative Fund to assist local workers facing redundancy. It was earmarked by the cabinet for fighting the airport in the event of an appeal against the planning committee decision on 24 January to refuse permission for growth in passenger numbers.

Instead of regarding the airport as its mortal enemy, the council should engage with the airport’s owners, airlines and ancillary business to work out a positive way forward. The battle over airport expansion should be put on ice and we should now focus on supporting local workers.

Continuing to reserve massive amounts of taxpayers’ money to fight the airport at a time of crisis would be a mark of callous and obdurate indifference to the devastation that thousands of local residents will face over coming months. Our local economy is in existential crisis and it is now time for the government, the council, trade unions and employers to unite to save jobs.