Immediate action needed to support aviation, say UK airlines

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Airlines UK, the trade body for UK-registered airlines, including Virgin Atlantic, easyJet, British Airways, Tui and Ryanair, has written to the Prime Minister to put forward its case for immediate action to support the sector.

Aviation is a major contributor to the UK economy, and indeed the UK has the third-largest aviation network in the world, following the USA and China. In 2017, Airlines UK members employed in excess of 90,000 people, served over 276 million passengers and carried around 1.2 million tonnes of cargo.

According to Airlines UK, aviation contributes enormously to the UK economy, with a direct contribution to GDP of £5.2 billion, an overall contribution to GDP of £10.9 billion, when the effects of the supply chain and workforce are added, and support for around 200,000 jobs.

Airlines UK has written the following letter to the Prime Minister:

The Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP
Prime Minister, First Lord of the Treasury and Minister for the Civil Service
10 Downing Street
London
SW1A 2AA

10 September 2020

Dear Prime Minister,

Immediate action required to support UK aviation

In July this year, we wrote to you as leaders in UK aviation to urge you to take immediate action to support the future of our industry over the summer season, including with the development of Covid-19 testing and targeted regional travel corridors.

The announcement this week of an “islands” policy with respect to travel quarantine is a welcome step which may support the reopening of some international markets, but it is by no means enough to support the sector and the world-beating connectivity it supports through what we know will be the most challenging winter season we have ever faced.

Our industry is in crisis. This year we expect to carry passenger numbers not seen since the 1990s, a simply unsustainable situation. A recovery to 2019 levels is not expected for at least four years and as a result, UK airlines alone have announced or begun consulting on over 30,000 job losses. Many thousands more are under threat across their supply chain. With 79% of international visitors to the UK arriving by air, we play a vital role in supporting half a million jobs across leisure, retail, hospitality and entertainment. Our cities, high streets and world-class attractions will simply not recover until they return. We are an island and there’s no option but to fly.

The summer season, where carriers make the bulk of their revenues and traditionally strengthen their balance sheets, has been lost. We are now faced with a bleak winter period with no certainty as to which markets we can operate to, depressed passenger demand, a Job Retention Scheme (JRS) which is due to end in October, and the absence of a support package for aviation which other countries across Europe – long ago – put in place for their own sectors.

Covid-19 testing is already being employed by over 30 countries and half the world’s busiest airports as a safe and effective alternative to quarantine. It has the potential to be a hugely important tool for authorities to safely open travel without quarantine from countries or regions deemed higher risk, such as the United States and Canada. The UK is already falling well behind international rivals, such as Germany, France and Iceland.

The aviation industry has been engaging with the Government on introducing testing of its own for several months. The Transport Secretary told the House of Commons on Monday that he would come back to the House over the “coming weeks” to set out further details, following continued talks within Whitehall. Now is the time for action. We urge you to announce and implement a policy on testing before the end of this month, and an expansion of regional travel corridors to mainland areas. The stakes could not be higher. We risk economic ruin otherwise.

A Covid-19 PCR test following a 5-day quarantine on arrival into the UK offers a credible balance between protecting public health and increasing demand for air travel. At the same time, the Government should implement a trial – for example between London and New York – testing both on arrival and at day 5, which would provide real-world data to give Ministers the reassurance that a one-test on arrival system is safe.

Alongside testing, regional travel corridors will help to keep open markets that otherwise – through a whole country approach – would remain closed. There are countless examples of countries collecting data at a regionalised level which point to lower infection rates than in the country as a whole. This more targeted approach to travel corridors will be vital to preserving what limited connectivity we may have this winter.

We know this winter is going to be the toughest on record for the UK economy, and particularly the aviation sector. We therefore believe a meaningful package of economic measures to support the industry and save jobs is also required.

Therefore, we ask for:

● An APD waiver for the next 12 months, which would protect regional connectivity, boost passenger demand and protect 8,000 jobs.

● Extend the Job Retention or Skills Retention scheme for aviation, and key industries, that continue to be impacted by Covid-19 restrictions. While helpful, the JRS is being wound down at the exact time demand is expected to be depressed as markets are prevented from opening because of travel restrictions.

● In addition, and as stated above, we request an immediate testing trial – for example from London to New York – testing both on arrival and at day 5, to provide real-world data which we hope will give Ministers the reassurance to move to a one-test on arrival system in future. Alongside this and before the end of the month, a one-test testing system with the test taking place no later than 5 days following arrival into the UK.

● A greater list of regional travel corridors beyond the ‘islands’ policy announced this week.

In sum, we ask you to act urgently to implement a programme of recovery for our sector. We also ask you and your cabinet colleagues to consider these basic questions: do you want international connectivity from the UK? Do you want the UK to remain the 3rd-best connected country in the world? Do you want to make Global Britain a reality rather than merely a slogan?

If the answer to any of these questions is “yes” then, before it is too late, you must grasp this last chance to save the aviation industry, and with it so much prosperity across the UK.

Yours sincerely,

Tim Alderslade, Chief Executive, Airlines UK
Alex Cruz, Chief Executive, British Airways
Owain Jones, Managing Director, Wizz Air UK
Michael O’Leary, Chief Executive, Ryanair
Steve Heapy, Chief Executive, Jet2.com
Alastair Wilson, Managing Director, Titan Airways
Andy Offer, Director, 2Excel
Kenton Jarvis, CEO Aviation, Tui
Jonathan Hinkles, Chief Executive, Loganair
Andy Green, Chief Executive, Jota Aviation
Johan Lundgren, Chief Executive, easyJet
Tony Carder, Director of Civil Business, AirTanker
Shai Weiss, Chief Executive, Virgin Atlantic
Nadeem Saltan, Chief Executive, CargoLogicAir
Tony Burgess, Managing Director, Eastern Airways

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Ever since his first flight on a TriStar, Adam has loved air travel, and since becoming editor of the Aircraft Interiors International brand he has really enjoyed the opportunity to be involved with the latest aircraft and airline products before they are even launched. Adam co-ordinates the running of the magazine, from commissioning articles and artwork, to ensuring that high standards of quality are maintained, as well as managing online content. Adam is proud to sit on the jury of the Crystal Cabin Awards and to have laid on the bed in Etihad's Residence.

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