Over the last year Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye has been effectively the spokesman for the British air travel industry. He needs no introduction. With the prime minister about to explain his plans for the way forward, here Holland-Kaye makes a clear point. “The current regime, consisting of multiple tests and catch all quarantines is unsustainable, both for our sector and the businesses that depend on it.” Just to put it in perspective Heathrow moved 80.9m passengers in 2019 and 22.1m in 2020, a slump of 73%. In January just gone 677,356 people passed through the airport. Last year it was 6.1m.
With the introduction of hotel-quarantine last Monday, the UK’s borders have effectively been shut in all but name. Only 12 months ago this new reality would have been scarcely imaginable. This time last year, many people would have been planning for reunions with family, preparing for opportunities to study abroad or booking business trips that could lead to exporting opportunities. But Covid-19 has changed all that, with strict and extensive entry requirements devastating the aviation sector and making it near impossible for anyone to plan for the days ahead.
Despite the difficulties caused by these restrictions, Heathrow fully supports policies that will bring an end to this crisis once and for all – the health of our sector depends on the health of the British public. However, the current regime, consisting of multiple tests and catch all quarantines is unsustainable, both for our sector and the businesses that depend on it. As we start to see what appears to be the light at the end of what has undeniably been a very long tunnel, we need to put in place measures which will give our industry a chance to fight for its own survival, while protecting the gains made in the UK’s fight against this deadly disease.
Heathrow’s 2020 Traffic Figures illustrate the dire position our industry currently finds itself in. Passenger volumes fell by a catastrophic 72.7% and this decline in passenger traffic has had a knock-on impact on cargo – much of which is usually carried in the belly hold of passenger planes, with volumes dropping by over 28%.
Aviation is the lifeblood of the UK economy, an essential engine for growth and this staggering collapse in the airport’s traffic is indicative of stunted economic growth and a levelling down of all the communities that rely on the movement of goods and people. Until we can get things moving again, our factories dependent on parts being flown in from their global supply chains will continue to sit idle, the fishery apprentice at a salmon farm in the Highlands will struggle to get his product to consumers in Singapore, and the pub in Stratford-upon-Avon which is usually filled with Americans tracing the steps of Shakespeare will continue to sit empty. We are an island trading nation, dependent on our connections with the world and for each day aviation experiences constricted numbers, there are significant ramifications being felt by businesses right across the country.
The Government must understand that restarting aviation will take months of planning and preparation – it needs to be actively working on a plan for how to do this safely now, if the industry is to be able to play its part in driving the UK’s economic recovery post-Covid-19.
The Chancellor must extend the furlough scheme for the aviation sector, this will give the businesses that have been brought to their knees by this pandemic the opportunity to prevent further job losses. The Treasury also needs to extend full business rates relief to all UK airports, currently battling to survive. The £8 million relief currently on offer doesn’t even cover Heathrow’s bill for a month, this is completely unreasonable considering that our business has been effectively shut down by the Government and unable to make a profit in almost a year. I also urge the Prime Minister to ensure his roadmap out of lockdown, set to be published today (22 February), provides a clear recovery flight plan for the aviation sector. A plan that takes us back towards a risk-based approach, devoid of blunt instruments such as blanket approaches, and which allows the Government to deploy the right health controls at the right time.
This third lockdown has been especially difficult for many because of the inability to plan for the future, with reunions, trips abroad and business meetings feeling as though they’ve been placed on hold indefinitely. The start of this year has so far been even more turbulent than the last, but proper Government intervention can give the nation something to look forward to once more. With the right policy and financial support from Government, the aviation industry will be well equipped to help deliver a successful Global Britain in a post-Covid-19 world.