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Aviation Industry States Lack of Government Support

Posted on 4th September 2020

Frustration has been expressed at the government from the aviation industry as backing has still not been given for COVID-19 testing at airports within the UK.

Ministers have been accused of “Overseeing the demise of UK aviation” by the head of Southampton, Glasgow and Aberdeen airports, along with bosses of both Heathrow Airport and Virgin Atlantic stating that “leadership” was required regarding the testing issue at airports.

Chief Executive of AGS Airports – running Southampton, Glasgow and Aberdeen – Derek Provan claimed that due to the pandemic, the industry has witnessed higher job losses than the coal industry did during its demise back in the 80s. He stated that this is “[…] surely not an accolade any government would like to have.”

It is believed by the aviation industry that airport testing will allow it to ‘get back on its feet’ after the negative impact it suffered as a result of lockdown, as passengers will be able to leave quarantine early. The Department for Transport stated that it had already provided ‘huge support’ to the aviation sector.

Airport testing has already been implemented at airports in Germany and France for those passengers arriving from countries that hold a higher rate of infection. However, Ministers are still deciding upon whether this should also be implemented within the UK. It is believed they are looking into the possibility of a ‘two-test system’ which will work to reduce the risk of a person who has recently contracted COVID-19 giving a false negative result. Under the two-test system, tests would be taken days apart and should both results be negative, the person will not need to quarantine for the full specified time of 14 days.

Chief Executive of Virgin Atlantic, Shai Weiss believes that airport testing is “essential” to supporting the kick-starting of the economy: “Without free and fast travel with the US, we won’t see a rebound of aviation and this will stall the economic recovery of the UK, which of course is already in recession.”

Although a pilot project for testing was set up within Heathrow airport, it is currently not operational as the tests have not been approved by the government. However, as the list of countries in the quarantine list of the UK is changing weekly, it has been said that passengers travelling abroad are facing “quarantine roulette” upon their return, not knowing whether they will be required to isolate for the 14-day period often until the last minute.

A country will usually be added to the quarantine list if they have recorded over 20 cases per 100,000 people over the previous week, and just last week Jamaica, Switzerland and the Czech Republic joined the list, which already has Spain and France on it. Ministers will later be deciding whether Portugal and Greece should also be additions to the list.

John Holland-Kaye from Heathrow Airport said: “I think the government has been very cautious, really focusing on the health crisis and yet we have an unemployment crisis looming. […] The UK government needs to get behind testing as an alternative to quarantine to save millions of jobs in this country.”

Mr Provan added that aviation spokespeople from the aviation industry were not “getting any response back from the government” which is leading to frustration within the sector, as well as a threat to thousands of jobs.

In response, a spokesperson for the Department for Transport, said: “We provided unprecedented support to the aviation industry – taking early action on airport slots, loans, tax deferrals, and paying people’s wages through the furlough scheme. While protecting public health remains our priority, we are working closely with experts to keep our approach to quarantine under constant review.”