Heathrow chief urges action on COVID restrictions

The CEO of the UK’s busiest airport has called on the government to withdraw a range of COVID-related restrictions or see the country lose ground to European rivals.

John Holland-Kaye warned that the airline industry had to rapidly rebuild passenger confidence but also remove the travel restrictions which left passenger demand looking to recover from historic lows

As the airport reported its annual figures today Holland-Kaye said: “We have invested in the latest COVID-19 secure technologies and process to achieve the Skytrax 4* rating, the highest achieved by a UK airport. We continue to mandate face coverings in the airport and encourage social distancing to protect passengers and colleagues and rebuild confidence in travel.”

Fewer than 4 million people travelled through Heathrow in the first six months of 2021, a level that would have taken just 18 days to reach in 2019.

“Recent changes to the Government’s traffic light system are encouraging, but expensive testing requirements and travel restrictions are holding back the UK’s economic recovery and could see Heathrow welcome fewer passengers in 2021 than in 2020,” he added.

Cargo volume at Heathrow, Britain’s biggest port, remains 18% down on pre-pandemic levels, while Frankfurt and Schiphol are up by 9%.

“Britain is losing out on tourism income and trade with key economic partners like the EU and US because Ministers continue to restrict travel for passengers fully vaccinated outside the UK,” Holland-Kaye explained. “Trade routes between the EU and the US have recovered to nearly 50% of pre-pandemic levels while the UK remains 92% down.

“Travel is now the only sector still facing restrictions, and for as long as it does, Ministers should provide financial support including an extension to the furlough scheme and business rates relief. Heathrow pays nearly £120 million a year in rates, in spite of being loss making; the government is changing policy to prevent us from reclaiming overpayments and we are challenging this in the High Court.”

“The UK is emerging from the worst effects of the health pandemic but is falling behind its EU rivals in international trade by being slow to remove restrictions. Replacing PCR tests with lateral flow tests and opening up to EU and US vaccinated travellers at the end of July will start to get Britain’s economic recovery off the ground,” he added.

The airport operator said they welcomed the UK government’s jet zero aviation strategy, “which shows that growth in aviation is compatible with achieving net zero emissions by 2050”.

“We also welcome the proposed mandate for progressively increasing use of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF); together with a SAF price stability mechanism this can stimulate a massive increase in production of SAF, creating jobs across the UK,” they added in a statement. “Heathrow’s airlines have already committed to using a higher level of SAF by 2030 than in the Committee on Climate Change’s most optimistic case. We recently received our first shipment of SAF, an important proof of concept for blending SAF with kerosene at a major global hub airport.”

Fewer than 4 million people travelled through Heathrow in the first six months of 2021, a level that would have taken just 18 days to reach in 2019.

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