Wednesday 9 June 2021 11:47 am

Traffic light system could cost UK airports £2.6bn this summer

The UK’s airports risk losing at least £2.6bn for the second year running this summer under the current traffic light travel system, as more travel and aviation leaders called for the scheme to be scrapped.

Compared to last summer’s travel corridor system, trade body the Airline Operator’s Association (AOA) said that there were far fewer countries that Brits can fly to without needing to quarantine on return.

Tourists, travel firms and airline bosses were left enraged last week after the government pulled Portugal – the one large holiday destination on the “green list” – off the quarantine-free travel list.

The current “green list”, the AOA said, includes countries that accounted for just 1.7 per cent of all airport passenger numbers in 2019.

But last year, when the travel corridor system was in full swing, passenger numbers peaked at 22 per cent of 2019 levels, the AOA added.

It called for extra financial support for the industry, such as extending business rates relief until the end of the current tax year.

In January, government began accepting applications for up to £8m in business rates relief for airports and baggage handling firms. Such firms can also use the full range of wider business support measures.

Before the Open: Get the jump on the markets with our early morning newsletter

Karen Dee, the body’s chief executive, said that the lack of a “meaningful restart” for travel would have “real-world consequences for the 1.6m jobs in the UK aviation and tourism industries”.

“Unless the Government makes a meaningful restart of aviation possible by extending the green list at the next review, moving to rapid and affordable tests for returning travellers and following the examples of the EU and the US by reducing restrictions on fully vaccinated passengers, aviation is in for an extremely difficult summer.

“Airports have suffered blow after blow since the start of the pandemic. If the Government decides it cannot reopen travel more meaningfully, then they should stand ready to give substantial financial compensation to airports and others in aviation and tourism. As airports remain open for critical services, support should include operational costs, such as policing, air traffic and CAA regulatory costs, and extending business rate relief in full until the end of the tax year.”

Her words were echoed by the World Travel & Tourism Council who said that the government should abandon the traffic light system and ease restrictions for fully vaccinated people.

UK travel traffic lights as of 08/06.

The body’s acting chief executive Virginia Messina said: “It’s time the government abandoned the hugely damaging traffic lights system. 

“Consumers, airlines and the wider travel sector were promised a watchlist and three weeks’ notice of any changes from green to amber, and not just four days. It has been incredibly disruptive and costly for both Travel & Tourism businesses and consumers. It simply hasn’t worked.

“What’s needed now is a watertight government policy enabling those who’ve been fully jabbed to travel freely, and not have to self-isolate on their return.”

A DfT spokesperson said: “We recognise the challenging times facing all sectors of transport as a result of COVID-19, which is why we have put in place a world beating support package, including around​ £7bn of support benefitting the air transport sector.”