Aviation industry responds to Boris Johnson’s roadmap

The new plans have been cautiously welcomed across the sector, but calls for more support are still being made

Yesterday (February 22), Boris Johnson outlined new plans to reopen the UK economy and the sectors within it over the coming months, including the reintroduction of air travel.

The latest announcement provided an indication of when international travel could return, giving a glimmer of much needed hope for the sector.

Karen Dee, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association (AOA), welcomed the prime minister’s plans with caution.

“Airports look forward to working with the successor to the Global Travel Taskforce to ensure we have a robust system in place to safely restart international aviation,” she said.

“The UK Government has stated that international travel restrictions will not ease before May 17. As the worst-hit economic sector in 2020, this will ensure we will also be the worst-hit sector of 2021. The UK and devolved governments must set out sector-specific support to help ensure there are viable airports to be able to restart.”

MAG Airports
Photo MAG Group - London Stansted 

Previously, the government had established the ground operations support scheme which opened on January 29, in which airports could apply for funding to help continue operations.

However, in a report issued by the AOA last week, it was revealed that the funding would only provide under two weeks of respite for the industry.

The Board of Airline Representatives in the UK (BAR UK) also welcomed the prime minister’s new approach, with hopes the reopening of air travel in the summer.

“Our pragmatic request of government is to provide targeted support for a sector that supports around 960,000 jobs and generated £57 billion in GDP (direct, indirect or induced impacts) until we are given the go-ahead to reopen. There is much work ahead and the airline industry stands ready to offer is best talent to the Government in order to forge an exciting new flight path for aviation and international travel,” said Dale Keller, chief executive of BAR UK.

The prime minister spoke about the importance of re-establishing global connectivity as the economy is so heavily reliant on it.

Charlie Cornish, MAG Group’s CEO is very much in favour of the new strategies being put in place to re-start the industry.

He said: “We strongly welcome the prime minister’s recognition that international travel is a key part of the governments roadmap.

“The Global Travel Taskforce now has a vital job to do over the coming weeks to create a clear and deliverable plan for overseas travel ahead of the publication deadline of April 12, so that people can start planning for the summer at the earliest opportunity.”

However, Cornish also stressed that “we must not lose sight of the fact aviation will be one of the last sectors to reopen”.

“Only by providing the same support that is already on offer to other industries will Government enable our airports to help deliver its ambitions for a balanced, global Britain as we emerge from this pandemic,” he concluded.

Although the aviation sector appreciated its inclusion in the latest efforts to reopen industries within the UK, the granting of substantial financial aid appears to still be on the backbench.

The British Airline and Pilots Association (BALPA) is optimistic regarding the new approach, although believes that “much more help is needed if this industry is to survive”.

Brian Strutton, general secretary for BALPA, said he is “pleased the prime minister listened to BALPA’s pleas”, whilst laying out a plan that gives a rough estimate of when air travel can fully operate once more.

“However, airlines and airports need financial support to survive until then because we have got at least three more months of grounded aircraft ahead, with virtually no revenue coming into the airlines at all. I urge the Government to look urgently and seriously at an economic support package for the travel sector,” he added.