Monday, 11 May 2020

British aviation bosses warn quarantine plans will damage sector

                              Britain’s plans for travellers to quarantine for 14 days after arriving in the country will worsen an already grave situation for the aviation sector, industry leaders said on Monday, saying that the government needed to set out a road-map to normality, reports Reuters.

The government plans to introduce a quarantine period for most people arriving from abroad to try to avoid a second peak of the coronavirus outbreak but has not given a clear indication of when it will be introduced or for how long it will last.

The measures might result in the continued grounding of planes, airport and airline bosses said in a letter to government, adding they did not know whether this was an intended outcome of the move as there had been no consultation with the sector.

“An open-ended quarantine, with no set end-date, will make an already critical situation for UK aviation, and all the businesses we support, even worse,” said the letter, signed by industry associations for airlines and airports as well as the chief executives of easyJet and Heathrow Airport.

“People will simply choose not to travel to and from the UK ... In short, passenger travel cannot restart.”

easyJet has grounded its fleet in response to travel restrictions and low demand, but some airlines are beginning to restart flights.

Earlier on Monday, Wizz Air’s chief executive told Reuters he needed more details on British quarantine plans before being able to assess its impact after seeing strong demand for the routes it has started operating. The boss of British Airways owner IAG has also raised concerns about the quarantine plan.

The letter said there was no clarity on the scientific advice underpinning the proposals, its geographic scope or whether it only applied to air travel. The foreign minister said that ports and airports were included in the proposals, and France has said it would be excluded from the measures.

The letter added that aviation needed “a road-map to normality” and any quarantine should be as short as possible, saying other measures could be used instead.

“We are working at pace with Government to agree a set of new, effective health protocols guided by the science (such as face masks and temperature checks) and which can be implemented at UK airports and onboard as soon as possible,” it said.

Asked about support for the aviation sector in parliament on Monday, Johnson said that companies had access to schemes designed to support businesses more broadly.

“We will do everything we can to ... keep Britain flying and get Britain flying again,” he said.

Airports are also disappointed with the lack of clarity,  “It’s inevitable that consumers will be confused by the message, they will not be certain as to when they should book their holidays,” Manchester Airports Group Chief Executive Charlie Cornish told BBC television.

Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye said: “Aviation is the lifeblood of this country’s economy, and until we get Britain flying again, UK business will be stuck in third gear. The Government needs to urgently lay out a roadmap for how they will reopen borders once the disease has been beaten, and to take an immediate lead in agreeing a Common International Standard for health in aviation that will allow passengers who don’t have the infection to travel freely.”

British Airways boss Willie Walsh told parliament’s transport committee IAG would have to review plans to resume flying in July if the government pressed ahead with plans to introduce a quarantine on most people coming into the country by air as part of measures to prevent a second peak of the coronavirus pandemic.

While Walsh said IAG was not in a position where it had to ask for a specific bailout from the government, he added the quarantine plan would add to the pressure on the group.

“We’ve probably exhausted every avenue that I can think of at this stage to shore up our liquidity. The cash has been reducing significantly and that will be the case as we go through May, June and July,” he said.

“The announcements yesterday of a 14-day period (of quarantine) for coming into the UK, it’s definitely going to make it worse,” he said, forecasting demand for “minimal” capacity under such rules.

Questioned by UK lawmakers over a British Airways plan to lay off up to 12,000 people, or 30% of its workforce, Walsh told lawmakers that aviation was facing the deepest crisis in its history.

“The industry has changed and anybody who believes that we’re going back to the way things were in 2019 misunderstands the scale of the challenge that is being faced,” he said. 

Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by Stephen Addison

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