Aviation sector calls for urgent government help to survive pandemic travel restrictions

The aviation industry will need additional financial support if it is to survive another extended period of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions warns the Airport Operators Association. The sector was dealt another blow with the suspension of the UK’s travel corridor arrangements from 0400 on Monday 18 January.

From today, arrivals to the UK from all destinations will be required to quarantine in an effort to prevent the spread of any new variants of the virus. Travellers will also need to show proof of a negative test taken in the previous 72 hours before travelling.

Karen Dee, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, said: “The closure of travel corridors is understandable from a public health perspective but this adds to the current near-complete shutdown of the UK’s airports, which are vital for our post-pandemic prosperity. This is making a devastating situation for UK airports and communities relying on the jobs and economic benefits that aviation brings, worse.

“The UK and devolved governments now need to set out as a matter of extreme urgency how they will support airports through this deepening crisis. Business rate support, announced last year and in England not yet even open to applications, is no longer sufficient to ensure airports can weather the difficult months ahead.”

Dee adds that airports are currently keeping their infrastructure open to support vital and critical services, such as post, freight, emergency services, military and coastguard flights, as well as supporting flights to offshore oil, gas and wind operations. “Airports are doing so while running on empty – there is only so long they can run on fumes before having to close temporarily to preserve their business for the future. Government needs to help cover airports’ operational costs by, for example, urgently providing relief from regulatory, policing, air traffic and business rates costs in the current and the coming tax year.”

The outlook for aviation globally is equally bleak. The International Air Transport Association warns that between US$70-80bn of government support is needed to see the world’s airlines through until June, on top of the US$170bn that has already been granted. The association says that a 61% fall in air travel demand last year has led to total losses in 2020 of US$118bn.

Meanwhile, rail operator Eurostar has suggested that it is under existential threat following a 95% fall in passenger numbers as a result of the pandemic. It has also asked for a support package, while a letter from a number of business leaders has called on the UK government to save the service, warning that it could run out of funds to continue operating the service from London St Pancras to Paris and Brussels.

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