UK airports join Travel Day of Action

Posted on 23 June, 2021 by Advance 

UK airports - including Heathrow, Gatwick, Birmingham and Doncaster Sheffield Airport - have given their support to today's #traveldayofaction – a day where organisations across aviation and travel industries have come together to urge the UK Government to support a safe return to international travel in time for the peak summer period and provide tailored financial support to the aviation sector.

Image courtesy Doncaster Sheffield Airport

Led by travel and aviation trade bodies such as Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), the day of action calls upon UK Government to allow a safe return to international travel by properly implementing the Global Travel Taskforce’s plan for a traffic light system, expanding the Green List in line with the scientific evidence and making restrictions more appropriate, whilst following a strong Red list to guard against variants.

Airports are standing with partners across the travel industry in acknowledging the need for a safe return to travel and welcoming the support the Government has offered the industry. 

However, the travel and aviation industry need transparency and clarity around the Government’s traffic light system and more green destinations adding to the safe travel list.

Consumer confidence is at an all-time low, heavily impacted by confused messaging from Government. The UK currently lags behind other European countries such as Greece, Spain and Portugal who are keen to kick start the summer season and welcome British tourists, having eased their testing regimes to accept lateral flow test for travellers.

The travel industry supports 221,000 UK jobs and the reopening of international travel is essential for economic recovery. Unlike many other modes of transport, the private sector is largely bearing the brunt of the financial burden. Ensuring there is an Aviation industry still left standing at the end of this crisis should be a priority for Government. The demand for international travel is strong, but travellers need clarity with affordable testing in place, where testing is absolutely necessary. 

It must not be forgotten that the travel sector connects people and places and is not purely about holidays. In recent weeks the rest of Europe has begun to open its borders and implement effective regimes enabling people to travel for business and leisure.

Robert Hough CBE, Chairman of Peel Airports, said: “Doncaster Sheffield Airport is proud to add its voice to the Travel Day of Action and stand by our aviation and travel industry partners in asking the Government for clarity and transparency on the return to safe international travel in time for Summer.

“Regional airports are vital not only for getting passengers on their well-earned summer holidays to spend time with their families.  They also have an important economic role to play in the regions they serve too, providing jobs and acting as a catalyst for economic growth.  We trust that the Government will take note of the day of action and offer vital support and clarity for safe international travel in time for the peak summer season along with other parts of Europe.”

Doncaster Sheffield Airport is already responsible for an annual contribution of £67m to the wider economy, a contribution that has the potential to grow to £6.5bn by 2037.

During Robert Courts MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport’s (DfT), recent visit to the airport, the DSA leadership team appealed to the Minister to act now, safeguard jobs and enable what is the region’s most economically transformative asset, to continue to play a critical role in government’s levelling up agenda.

Image courtesy Heathrow

Heathrow’s CEO, John Holland-Kaye stood alongside union representatives from BALPA, Prospect, TUC and Unite and with several colleagues, not only those directly employed by Heathrow but also representatives from key airport partners who employ thousands of colleagues – NATs, Mitie and Reach.

In a statement, Heathrow says that as the UK’s front door and hub airport, passenger numbers remain significantly low – down 90% in May in comparison to pre-pandemic 2019 levels. The airport still faces an annual business rates bill of over £100m despite ongoing restrictions which continue to suppress passenger demand. Heathrow continues to pay a bill that was based off 80m passengers and four operational terminals – which is no longer a reality. The Traffic Light System launched by Government has failed to deliver a meaningful restart to international travel as promised. Ministers must reinstate a risk-managed approach around a safe return to international travel in time for the peak summer period and think again about financial support offered to the sector.

Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye said: “The Government cannot keep travel and trade shut down when the evidence is overwhelmingly clear – vaccinations are incredibly effective, even against variants. Ministers said they had a risk-based plan to restart travel, and hundreds of thousands of jobs and livelihoods across the UK are counting on them to deliver that. The Government should follow the science and allow those who are fully vaccinated to travel from Green and Amber countries without the need to quarantine or take expensive PCR tests.  Our rivals in the EU are already seizing the advantage, by opening up to passengers from the US, while the UK’s transatlantic fleet remains grounded. It is time we reaped the benefits of the UK’s world leading vaccination programme by getting our own economy off the ground.”

A socially distanced gathering also took place at Birmingham Airport. Joining Birmingham Airport staff in support for the reinstatement of travel were representatives from the local tourism attractions, destination marketing organisations, Coventry City of Culture Trust, trade unions, travel agents, airlines, handling agents and the three Chambers of Commerce for Greater Birmingham, the Black Country and Coventry.

Image courtesy Birmingham Airport

The pandemic has been a catastrophe for the travel industry and Birmingham Airport alike and is leading to UK businesses being unable to maintain trade relationships overseas or attract international visitors. The airport is only currently serving one country on the Green traffic light list (Gibraltar), with all others on the restrictive Amber list, and although airlines are serving a handful of Amber countries, volumes are small and customer confidence has hit an all-time low.

Birmingham Airport is operating at passenger levels 95% less than in 2019 and without an urgent review of the methodology, which should include UK vaccinated travellers being able to travel without quarantine restrictions and expensive testing, another summer will be lost.

Speaking at the event, Nick Barton, Birmingham Airport’s Chief Executive said: “Whilst most of Europe and the US have now eased air travel restrictions, Britain’s businesses are losing out because they can’t fly to clients overseas to maintain equipment or close deals in person, nor can they afford to quarantine on return. The UK is becoming an outlier to the rest of Europe, undermining Global Britain’s aspirations.

“The Government’s Traffic Light System has failed to deliver a meaningful restart to international travel it promised and is ignoring the very risk-based system they designed.

“International travel can return safely in a risk managed way by properly implementing the Global Travel Taskforce’s plan for a traffic-light system. With more than half the population now having received their second vaccine, this must be factored into decision making rather than taking a broad-brush approach.

“We also call on Government to rethink the current requirements for testing, which is totally unaffordable for most hardworking people, and to extend the furlough scheme beyond the September cut off for our sector, which has been hardest hit by the pandemic.”

Gatwick Airport also joined in, alongside leading bodies such as the Airport Operators Association (AOA), Airlines UK, ABTA and the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA), in asking Government to capitalise on the vaccine rollout by safely reopening travel this summer and provide tailored financial support to businesses, ahead of the Global Travel Taskforce’s review of restrictions next week.

The Government is expected to provide an update on the traffic light list within the next week and a review of the requirements for international travel is due on 28th June.

Gatwick Airport, Chief Executive Officer, Stewart Wingate said: “Given the extra time the recent delay to the lifting of lockdown allows, we urge the Government to use the time to put a simple, effective and internationally coordinated system in place so that those who have been double vaccinated can travel abroad without the need for expensive tests.

“This would help ensure summer holidays abroad can be a reality for the many people desperate to reunite with friends and family or enjoy a well-earned break and equally, provide a huge boost to the travel industry, which has been so devastatingly impacted by COVID-19.

“We also need more countries regularly added to the green list if the airport and our supply chains and businesses are to rebuild and protect as many jobs as possible. Gatwick has been a major driver for the local and regional economy for several decades, as well as supporting the wider UK economy during that time. The whole industry requires more tailored financial backing from Government if we are to rebuild successfully and ensure the UK remains a significant global player with outstanding connections to major worldwide economies.”

Airport Operators Association Chief Executive Karen Dee said: “The Government’s overly cautious approach to reopening travel has real-world consequences for the 1.6m jobs in the UK aviation and tourism industries that rely on aviation having a meaningful restart.

“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 and travel are in for an extremely difficult summer.

“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.

“Jobs and livelihoods in businesses across the economy that need air connectivity for their success are at risk. The Government cannot afford to let those go.”