New red tape imposed on international travellers flying to the UK will damage the aviation industry’s competitiveness, the chief executive of British Airways has warned.
The so-called Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) scheme will require visa-exempt travellers passing through Britain to pay a £10 fee and wait up to three days for an online permit.
Sean Doyle said the scheme, which also applies to passengers using UK hubs for connecting flights, “put carriers like British Airways, who rely on connecting traffic, at a competitive disadvantage to European hubs.”
Doyle, who was addressing industry executives at the Airline 2023 conference in Westminster, cautioned “we need to make sure by stealth we don’t make our industry uncompetitive.”
Around 40 to 50 per cent of BA traffic to Heathrow connects behind to other destinations. The aviation sector is concerned the new red tape would see customers opt to travel via rival countries’ airports, affecting the UK’s major carriers and Heathrow, which competes with the likes of Dubai and Istanbul.
Most countries around the world do not require passengers who are moving from gate to gate at a hub, not through passport control, to meet the requirements of the connecting destination.
The tax was introduced by the Home Office with the goal of improving border security and came into effect for Qatari nationals last week, amid concern from a slew of airline groups and airports over the consequences.
Industry bodies’ Airlines UK and BAR UK warned this summer that taxing transiting passengers would see the UK lose ground on European rivals. They argue the principle of implementing a new charge on transiting visa-exempt passengers is wrong, since they are not crossing the border.
BAR UK told City A.M. in June that they were “evaluating the potential for market distortion, as the EU currently plans to exempt transitting passengers under a similar scheme.”
The scheme will be rolled out to a number of other Middle Eastern countries in early 2024. By the end of next year, the government has said it will be a requirement worldwide for visitors who do not need a visa for short stays.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are introducing an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) scheme to enhance border security by increasing our knowledge about those seeking to come to the UK and preventing the arrival of those who pose a threat.”
“Requiring transit passengers to obtain an ETA willstop people who may use connecting flights to avoid gaining permission to travel to the UK.”
“We are communicating with those impacted by this change to help ensure they are aware and understand what the new requirement means for them, with ample time to prepare.”
In a wide ranging speech, Doyle also warned the country was falling behind on its production goals for sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) – biofuels seen as a key pillar of the sector’s bid to decarbonise.
The aviation boss said the UK was struggling to “just get the ball rolling and getting plants built,” ahead of a looming 2030 target for SAF to make up 10 per cent of airlines fuel consumption.
“Maybe we need to look at what other jurisdictions and governments are doing, who are ahead of us in that regard,” he told the conference.