AOA recovery plan highlights need for government support

The report calls for financial aid for the industry, as well as new strategies to remove travel bans and quarantine measures

The Airport Operators Association (AOA) has published its Airport Recovery Plan, based on a report commissioned from businesses consultancy Steer.

The group says recovery of air travel for 2021 is currently looking bleak, with the emergence of new strains and governments trying to introduce further restrictions to help harness infection rates. In the UK, air travel is currently at a stand-still, suggesting that passenger traffic numbers this year will not be so different from figures seen in 2020.

Manchester Airport
Photo Geograph - Gerald England 

Based on Steer’s analysis before the pandemic worsened, it was estimated that passenger numbers would not return to 2019 levels until 2025 at the earliest. Due to the increased restrictions constantly being put in place, the AOA says this prediction is moving further away from becoming a reality.

“A comprehensive Aviation Recovery Package is needed to see airports through the immediate government-ordered shut-down of aviation. This must include targeted financial support as well as a clear pathway to re-start across the four UK nations by easing travel restrictions when it is safe to do so, including through testing,” said Karen Dee, AOA chief executive.

Within Steer’s report, it was found that airports have had to increase debt levels and seek concessions from lenders to provide liquidity in order to survive. Airports are now carrying some of the highest levels of debt and are high fixed cost businesses. This is resulting in significant losses due to having no revenue.

There have had to be substantial staff cuts and airports have decreased capital investment. Previously, the AOA had predicted that 110,000 jobs within the sector could be lost.

It was also found that when recovery does begin to occur, travel routes will improve at different rates. Short-haul flights to popular destinations are set to recuperate first, whilst business routes – often long haul flights – would make a slower recovery. This could result in far fewer jobs and economic opportunities, as well as directly undermining the government’s goal for a globally trading Britain.

Within the report, it also speculates that a recovery in passenger volumes will not see a coinciding recovery in airport revenue. Airports will compete with one another within Europe by introducing discounts and incentives. Passenger revenues will also be lower due to the continuation of social distancing and economic struggles.

The AOA have outlined a short-term plan that it is urging the government to follow to ensure the industry doesn’t experience the same hit this year as it did in 2020. The association has stressed that significant financial support must be given to airports so they can carry on with critical services such as emergency flights, freight and maintenance.

Furthermore, they addressed that a pathway needs to be established to ease and then remove travel bans and quarantine measures. It has been suggested that this should be done through the implementation of testing and vaccination to then work towards a universal approach on that basis.