Sunday 12 April 2020 11:59 am

Manchester Airport backs Virgin Atlantic bailout as airlines call for more support

The boss of Manchester Airport has pleaded with the chancellor to save Virgin Atlantic from collapse as UK airlines urge the government to extend its support during the coronavirus crisis.

Manchester Airports Group chief Charlie Cornish said Virgin was the biggest long-haul carrier at the airport, flying nearly 1m people a year to New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta.

Read more: Coronavirus: Aerospace giants lobby for Virgin Atlantic rescue deal

“These services are directly benefiting the economies of Manchester and the surrounding region,” Cornish wrote in a letter to Rishi Sunak seen by the Sunday Times.

“Virgin Atlantic’s growth in capacity has been essential in allowing Manchester to become one of the best-connected European airports to the USA.”

Virgin has applied for a state-aid package of commercial loans and guarantees worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

The coronavirus crisis has caused severe disruption across the aviation industry as airlines have been forced to ground the majority of lights.

But Virgin specialises in the long-haul sector, which is expected to be hardest hit by the pandemic. The airline had just £83m available in net cash according to its latest report, and leases 75 per cent of its 46 aircraft.

Manufacturers Airbus and Rolls Royce have also called for support for the airline.

It comes as industry bodies call on the government to extend its support for airlines, warning that the current disruption was “likely only the start”.

In a joint statement last week ADS Group, Airlines UK and the Airport Operators Association said the UK’s aviation, aerospace and travel sectors risked being left behind in the country’s economic recovery if proper steps were not taken.

They called for business rate relief measures already taken for retail, leisure and hospitality to be extended to aviation — a step the Scottish government has already taken.

They also said the job retention scheme should be extended beyond May, while financial support schemes should be made available to all businesses.

Read more: Coronavirus: Global airlines warn that up to 25m jobs at risk

“Making sure the aviation and aerospace sectors can quickly and fully recover when restrictions are lifted will support the wider recovery in UK trade that is vital to limiting the economic cost of the Covid-19 crisis,” they said.

The government has said it will consider bailout requests “so long as all other government schemes have been explored and all commercial options exhausted, including raising capital from existing investors”.