The bosses of the UK’s largest airlines have called on the government to implement an airport testing regime by the end of the month, warning that the country risks “economic ruin” otherwise.
In a letter to Boris Johnson, the chief executives of British Airways, Easyjet, Ryanair, Virgin Atlantic, and Tui, among other, said that the economy “simply will not recover” until air travel returns.
“The summer season, where carriers make the bulk of their revenues and traditionally strengthen their balance sheets, has been lost”, the letter said.
“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.”
Bosses urged ministers to follow the example of the 30 countries around the world and put in place a testing regime, saying it “had the potential to be a hugely important tool for authorities to safely open travel without quarantine from countries or regions deemed higher risk”
“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”, they said.
They called two systems to be implemented, the first of which would see incoming passengers given a test after five days of quarantine.
The second trial, which they said should be put in place for the profitable London to New York route, would have testing both on arrival and at day five.
Ministers have thus far been resistant to the idea of testing at airports, with Johnson warning that they only pick up seven per cent of infections.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab cautioned that such an initiative would not be a “silver bullet” for the problem.
Regional travel corridors, they added, should be rolled out more fully around the world. “This more targeted approach to travel corridors will be vital to preserving what limited connectivity we may have this winter”, the letter said.
MPs add to pressure on ministers
The demands came as 59 backbenchers took part in a debate in parliament today on the future of the aviation industry.
Huw Merriman, the chair of the transport select committee, called for the government to extend the furlough scheme for aviation workers, saying that 30,000 sector employees had already been made redundant.
He also called for a cut in Air Passenger Duty and the cessation of business rates for English airports, two other key sector demands.
With British Airways in the process of cutting 12,000 roles, he said that the UK’s flag carrier should “do the right thing” and reconsider its job cuts programme.
He called on the new boss of BA owner IAG Luis Gallego, saying that it was “not too late” for BA to change its policy.
Former Prime Minister Theresa May also pushed heavily for a testing programme, saying that “if [ministers] want to get the economy going again, get planes flying”.
The government has said that it would publish a plan for the sector’s recovery during the autumn.