Government urged to ‘fundamentally rebalance’ approach to foreign travel

The aviation sector today urged the government to “fundamentally rebalance” its approach to foreign travel.

The demand came in a joint letter to transport secretary Grant Shapps from Airlines UK and the Airport Operators Association ahead of the global travel taskforce’s next checkpoint review.

The trade bodies called for fully vaccinated passengers and anyone travelling from low risk countries to be able to travel with restrictions or testing – just like domestic UK travel.

They also demanded “greater certainty and predictability” so that travellers are not ”constantly looking over their shoulders” in case of rule changes, disruption or significant unexpected costs.

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The letter to Shapps said: “UK aviation is an outlier, both compared to the UK’s approach to domestic restrictions and internationally. While festivals and nightclubs have been able to reopen without restrictions, aviation continues to be held back by complex and burdensome rules and costly testing requirements.

“Summer 2021 was a worse summer for our industry than summer 2020 – making us unique in the UK economy. Europe has shown the way to safely re-open travel and has seen a much faster recovery in international travel volumes and passenger numbers. The UK is being left behind despite its world-beating vaccination programme.

“The travel rules are disproportionate to any health benefit. Despite the huge cost to travellers, only a minority of positive cases are sequenced (just 0.03% of tests from green arrivals in July), and no VoCs [variants of concern]are being detected for the vast majority of countries.

“The UK’s approach has a real cost. Without a successful summer and with high burdens on travellers, the winter season is likely to be extremely challenging.

“Nearly 60% of staff in the air transport sector were on furlough at the end of June – the highest of any sector. Unless a significant change takes place, there will be further job losses as furlough ends.

“In our view, the government needs to fundamentally rebalance its approach to international travel and enable a more meaningful recovery of aviation, after a hugely disappointing summer.”

Airlines UK chief executive Tim Alderslade and AOA chief executive Karen Dee said: “While the rest of the economy has been able to reopen without restrictions, UK aviation continues to operate with complex and burdensome restrictions, such as the sky-high cost of testing.

“As a result, aviation is unique in having had a worse summer this year than last. Meanwhile, our European competitors have taken off and are seeing traffic levels at more than 70% of 2019 figures.

“It’s time the government recognises the disproportionate burdens on aviation. Fully vaccinated people should be able to travel without restrictions or testing. This would match the approach to domestic travel but also aligns us with our European competitors. It would provide greater certainty to travellers while keeping variants of concern at bay through the continuation of a red list.

“The price of not doing so is high, not just for businesses reliant on international travel and trade but also for people across the UK. For example, furlough remains widely used in aviation and with furlough ending shortly, further jobs are at risk during the upcoming challenging winter season.”

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