Airlines need planes in the air by June or risk collapse
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The aviation industry is angling for a lockdown lift with planes in the air by the end of June.
Airlines and airports alike are warning that the industry will collapse if they are not soon allowed to fly to “low risk countries”.
Currently only essential travel out of the UK is permitted – with home secretary Priti Patel using her latest press conference to outline isolation rules for fliers, instead of indicating when measures will be eased.
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But Charlie Cornish, chief executive of MAG which owns Stansted Airport has said continuing the “blanket quarantine policy” will be a “brick wall”.
He said: “This will have huge consequences for UK jobs and GDP. By enabling people to travel between the UK and low risk countries, the aviation industry is able to help lead the UK economy out of this crisis, just as it has in previous recessions. But in order for this to happen, the Government must work quickly to create a smart and targeted approach that recognises that many countries are already low risk.
“European countries are starting to open up, and some that are popular with British holidaymakers want to agree two-way arrangements with the UK to enable travel.”
He added: “Government has to take a risk-based approach to quarantine arrangements to enable air travel to restart and to allow British people to enjoy well-earned holidays in safe countries. At the same time this would help kick start UK tourism and hospitality industries, saving businesses and jobs.
“A blanket quarantine will seriously jeopardise the long term future of the sector and put tens of thousands of jobs, and billions of pounds of economic value, at risk.”
These concerns were echoed by Norwich Airport. A spokeswoman for the airport said: “Norwich Airport echoes the Airport Operators Association’s (AOA) disappointment that the government has decided to go ahead with a simplistic, blanket approach to quarantining all arrivals, without any consultation with industry.
“This threatens to have very serious economic and social consequences, not just in aviation but in all sectors relying on aviation connectivity, without resulting in notably better public health outcomes than a more targeted approach. This must be reviewed more frequently than every three weeks. “As per the AOA’s response on behalf of the aviation industry, we believe the UK should move towards a science-led, risk-based approach as soon as possible, or risk being left behind.”
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This stance has been backed up by TUI, with the airline’s chief executive saying it intended to start flights again come the end of June to Mallorca.
Boss Fritz Joussen said: “We want to resume flight traffic to Mallorca from mid-to-end of June. Austria, Greece, Cyprus, Croatia, Bulgaria are also well-prepared.”
But these companies cannot operate on empty flights – the demand must be there.
And the public does have the confidence to spend, says Nick Lee of Broadland Travel Worldchoice.
The managing director of the North Walsham-based company said: “We’re having some bookings for September and then enquiries about further ahead into the winter and next year. People who have had holidays cancelled have told us when they get the deposit back they’re going to rebook instead of waiting.”
He also said that destinations and group sizes are not being dictated by fears over the virus.
“We’re having enquiries for Caistor to the Caribbean,” he said. “Some of this is form couples which is very much the norm for us, but we’re also seeing group and family bookings. The family bookings are also not just households, but cross-generation with grandparents travelling as well.”
He added that there was a very “real threat” to the tourism industry if the government did not offer the right support.
“When you look at what other countries have done – Germany and the US for example – those airlines have been bailed out,” he said. “In the UK it’s been in the form of loans.
“What needs to be appreciated is that the aviation industry is run on very tight margins. Even the British Airways of the world don’t have six months cash in the bank, they need people spending.”
The Norwich Airport spokeswoman added: “The chancellor needs to provide further financial and business support to airports and travel operators to help the industry get through this prolonged period with limited to no revenue and ensure the sector is ready to restart in support of the UK economic recovery.”
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