MAGGIE PAGANO: Airline bosses slam government's travel restrictions


MAGGIE PAGANO: Airline bosses highly critical of Government’s travel restrictions, claiming they are too tight and costly – aviation needs action plan

  • Across the EU, travel is back to half of what it was pre-pandemic compared to the UK, which is flying at about 10 per cent of those levels 
  • Anecdotally, many business people are said to be crossing the Channel by whatever means and flying around the world out of Europe 
  • Cargo through Heathrow – the UK’s busiest port – has collapsed 18 per cent compared with Frankfurt and Schipol, which have seen increases on last year 

The collapse in passenger numbers at Heathrow Airport shows just how deeply the airline industry has been devastated by the pandemic. 

Fewer than 4m people travelled through in the first six months of this year – the same as would normally have done so in 18 days pre-Covid. 

Even during the worst of the pandemic last year, 22m people still managed to travel through Europe’s busiest airport although that was still well down on the 90m in 2019.

Testing times: As airline chiefs suggest, replacing the shockingly expensive PCR testing with lateral flow tests would be a start

Testing times: As airline chiefs suggest, replacing the shockingly expensive PCR testing with lateral flow tests would be a start

Hardly any surprise then that Heathrow has reported pandemic losses of £2.9billion, and been forced to waive its Heathrow Finance covenant for this year because it is suffering cash flow problems. 

At Ryanair, Covid continues to create havoc. The low-cost airline flew 27.5m people in the year to March, down from 148.6m in the previous year. It lost another £234m in the first three months of the year. 

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Yet Heathrow’s John Holland-Kaye and Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary are sort of bullish about the future.

Heathrow’s boss reckons numbers will be back up to 21m by the end of the year while O’Leary is predicting 100m passengers will be flying Ryanair over the next financial year. But both are highly critical of the Government’s travel restrictions, claiming they are too tight and costly. 

Holland-Kaye put it bluntly: ‘Where is the vaccine dividend?’ 

It’s a good question: European skies are open to each other while they have also opened up with the US, which is seen as a low-risk country. 

Across the EU, travel is back to half of what it was pre-pandemic compared to the UK, which is flying at about 10 per cent of those levels. EU countries have avoided many of these problems by having a digital Covid certificate, allowing a person’s vaccination status to be recognised across the bloc. 

This has been far more effective than the UK’s haphazard policy of constantly switching its traffic light colours. Frankly, even contemplating air travel – certainly for holidays – at this time is a giant leap of faith and for most of us having a staycation makes sense. 

But for trade, the impact is going to be enormous. Anecdotally, many business people are said to be crossing the Channel by whatever means and flying around the world out of Europe. 

Cargo through Heathrow – the UK’s busiest port – has collapsed 18 per cent compared with Frankfurt and Schipol, which have seen increases on last year. 

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Ministers need to get their skates on to avoid more damage. As airline chiefs suggest, replacing the shockingly expensive PCR testing with lateral flow tests and opening up to fully vaccinated travellers from the EU and the US is a first step to lift-off. 

It’s also time for the Government to be braver and look at national antibody testing, a move which would help those who choose not to be, or can’t be, vaccinated. 

A recent study published by Nature magazine shows that most of those who have recovered from Covid-19 have bone-marrow cells that can produce antibodies for years, if not decades. 

Now that is a worthwhile test.

China tit-for-tat 

What game is the Government playing with the latest leaks that it wants to force the giant China General Nuclear (CGN) out of the Sizewell C plant and all other UK nuclear projects? It surely knows that without CGN’s support and engineering work, EDF would not be building Hinkley or Sizewell (under the so-called Osborne ‘golden era’, CGN was also to be allowed to build its own new plant, Bradwell B, in Essex). 

If the Chinese are forced out of Sizewell, it’s more than likely they will be so insulted that CGN will walk away from Hinkley too. That would leave the UK without future nuclear power, and much egg on faces. 

However, if the Government can balance removing CGN from Sizewell but keep the state-owned giant at Hinkley, that would be a perfect outcome.

But that requires sensitive negotiating skills and for the Chinese to be humble. That might be stretching the diplomacy of both partners. Worth a try.

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Green edge 

Dutch developer Edge, is to build a 27-storey office building next to the Shard at London Bridge station. 

Work on the skyscraper is to start next spring and be finished by 2025. 

Edge promises the tower will be as green as anything we have seen yet, with natural ventilation coming in through each floor. 

It’s a big vote of confidence in the City but something of a gamble that we will be back in offices. 



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