Tuesday 31 March 2020 4:20 pm

Coronavirus: UK airports renew calls for government aid as passenger numbers plummet

The UK’s aviation sector has renewed calls for the government to do more to prop it up through the coronavirus pandemic, as new figures showed that UK passenger numbers could drop by a third in 2020.

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the UK is on course to see 113.5m fewer passengers pass through its airports in 2020, down from a total 297m last year.

Read more: MPs urge chancellor Rishi Sunak to act ‘urgently’ to save UK’s airlines

As of yesterday, daily air traffic in the UK was down 89.1 per cent, according to data from Eurocontrol, which manages air traffic control across Europe.

Chief executive Karen Dee said that the UK was “lagging behind its international competitors” when it came to protecting the aviation sector, which has been devastated by the coronavirus outbreak:

“Aviation was at the forefront of the impact of Covid-19, but we appear to be at the back of the queue when it comes to government providing targeted support”, she added.

Speaking to City A.M., she said: “Airports are viable and profitable. It is not the case that these are failed businesses seeking bailouts”.

Dee also called for the government to follow the example of Scottish authorities and extend the business rates exemption to the UK’s airports.

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Chancellor Rishi Sunak has said airlines can receive state financial support on an individual basis after they have exhausted all other means of raising cash, but industry bodies have said the Treasury also needs to implement sector wide measures to guarantee their survival.

These include suspending Air Passenger Duty (APD) payments for six months and underwriting payments to the Civil Aviation Authority and to air traffic controllers for the rest of the year. 

Airports have also asked for their own specific protections, saying that the measures like deferring APD payments would not impact airports.

Parliament has also added its voice to industry calls, with 38 cross-party MPs signing a letter on Sunday urging the government to acquiesce to the sector’s demands.

Countries around the world have been quicker in coming to the aid of their beleaguered airlines, with the US last week announcing a $58bn package of loans and grants for carriers. 

Australia has given the industry AU$715m, while the French government have set aside €700m in tax relief. 

Read more: Coronavirus: Airports hit back at Rishi Sunak over aviation rescue u-turn

Spain, Norway, Denmark and Finland have all also set aside various sums to protect national airlines and airports.

City A.M. has contacted the Treasury for comment.