News, Culture & Society

MAGGIE PAGANO: Revving up for recovery

Listen carefully and you can hear engines around the world revving up to take off for economic recovery. 

Airbus, the world’s biggest plane maker, has put suppliers on notice to prepare for record production of its best-selling planes over the next two years.

The European consortium-owned Airbus reckons that demand for air travel will not only match but overtake pre-pandemic levels – once vaccination programmes reduce the risks – and wants to be ready for lift-off.

Take-off: Airbus, the world’s biggest plane maker, has put suppliers on notice to prepare for record production of its best-selling planes over the next two years

To give some idea of the potential, Airbus boss Guillaume Faury plans on making 14 of its A220 single-aisle airliners every month within the next five years. Currently it makes five a month.

Faury’s optimism is based on the belief that once coronavirus travel restrictions are lifted, there will be a boom in air travel in Asia and the US.

It’s great news for the UK as Airbus employs 12,500 people at 25 sites across the country from Aberdeen to Portsmouth with wing-making in Belfast and Broughton in North Wales.

But also for engine-maker Rolls-Royce, Melrose and Meggitt, which also supply the manufacturer. 

Also revving up its jets is Rolls-Royce. After three years of construction, Rolls-Royce finally opened the world’s biggest – and smartest – engine test bed in its home town of Derby.

The Test bed 80, which cost £90million, is an extraordinary building which, as big as a football pitch, has such a strong frame it can hold a jet engine at full throttle with nearly 310,00 lbs of fuel.

It’s here that Rolls-Royce will test its super green Ultrafan being built to spearhead a new generation of sustainable engines for long-haul flights.

That’s the good news in the air. On the ground, there are plenty more signs that Britain is not doing too badly.

The Lloyds Bank Business Barometer out today reports that optimism in the economy has risen by five points to 37 per cent over the last month, the highest level for five years. Overall business confidence was up for the fourth month in a row, the strongest for three years.

The most sanguine firms were those in manufacturing industries, retail, construction and services.

The latest ONS figures support this optimism. The number of people on furlough has fallen to 8 per cent of the workforce, the lowest this year, while only a third of businesses reported a drop in turnover in May – the lowest since last June. 

As well as a big leap in eating out and higher retail footfall, the ONS reports that port traffic and the number of ships arriving in the UK – key indicators of trade flows – is slowly coming back to pre-Covid levels.

It’s too early to say that we are on our way to the much hoped for V-shaped recovery. This will depend on whether consumers dig into their lockdown ‘savings’ and spend as before. 

Or indeed, on whether the Government will delay easing restrictions next month if virus cases continue to spike. And that too must be up in the air.

Uber union

Here is another number on the rise. Union membership. Around 180,000 workers joined a union over the last year, the fourth year in a row when membership has increased.

Indeed, the jump in membership since 2015 is the biggest sustained rise since the 1970s when 13m workers were union members. Until now, that number has been in freefall with 6.4m members today.

The latest figures come after the GMB broke bread with Uber in a landmark deal this week to represent 70,000 drivers.

It’s a first in protecting workers in the gig economy. What to make of the rise? Well, it’s hardly a surprise that during a time of such insecurity that people would want to seek job protection. 

It’s also a timely tap on the shoulder warning companies to take more care about how they treat their staff.

Pet lovers

Now we know where the money went. As well as doing up our homes, much of it went to having Pets at Home. 

The pet retailer and vet chain had an amazing year, with sales topping £1billion for the first time in its history. 

Pet numbers are up by around 8 per cent year on year, confirming the lockdown puppy syndrome that we have heard about, and some of us fell for. (Don’t be tempted.)

This pet ‘baby’ boom even led to food shortages, and demand for luxury dog coats and swimming pools. 

But it’s the basic feeding and caring for these newly acquired pets that you can’t avoid. 

No wonder Pets At Home reckons that a year of pandemic pets could boost sales by another £600million. Smart repeat business.

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