Sunday 29 March 2020 3:17 pm

MPs urge chancellor Rishi Sunak to act 'urgently' to save UK's airlines

A group of 38 MPs has written to chancellor Rishi Sunak asking him to “urgently review” the support that the UK’s airlines and airports have asked for in a bid to survive the coronavirus pandemic.

Since the outbreak began, the global aviation industry has been decimated, with travel restrictions now covering 98 per cent of passenger revenues and UK passenger numbers approaching zero. 

Read more: Government in talks over state takeover of Flybe

Last week Sunak said that state aid would be given to sector members on a case-by-case basis, but only as a “last resort” once all other means of raising cash have been exhausted.

However, the letter, which is signed by MPs from both sides of the aisle, urges the chancellor to consider implementing various “industry-wide measures” to prop up the sector.

The MPs added: “This should include liquidity support where necessary, cost alleviations – including on a range of taxes and industry charges, regulatory easements and the adaptation of the Job Retention Scheme to take account of the unique aviation context”.

Former Tory aviation minister Paul Maynard said: “At a time of unprecedented pressures for government, many sectors are clamouring for help. 

“Our airlines and airports will be an essential part of our recovery, however, so if shareholders and investors do their bit in standing behind their airlines or airports, I really hope [the] government can consider how to support the sector’s resilience as a whole.”

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Last week each of the sector’s two principal industry bodies, Airlines UK and the Airport Operators’ Association, wrote to the chancellor to set out their differing requirements.

Both groups welcomed today’s support, with the former’s chief executive Tim Aldersdale commenting: 

“We’ve put countless cross-industry ideas on the table to help aviation through this, and the Chancellor said in his letter this week he was open to discussing them, yet no discussion has yet taken place. 

“We are now entering the danger zone, and we urge [the] government to change tack and start to engage on a sector-wide basis before it’s too late”.

On Friday the Financial Times reported that Virgin Atlantic would be the first UK airline to ask the government for hundreds of millions in assistance.

Read more: Virgin Atlantic set to ask for government bailout

Virgin’s chiefs had previously called for a £7.5bn sector wide rescue package for airlines, but the differing requirements of individual have led the government to take a case-by-case approach.

In a meeting with the transport select committee last week, transport secretary Grant Shapps said that “everything was on the table” when it came to the bespoke negotiations, including the possibility of the government taking a share in troubled carriers.