An open letter to the UK travel industry by aviation and maritime minister Robert Courts
Coronavirus has presented the modern world with an unprecedented challenge on a scale like no other, affecting our health, the wellbeing of our loved ones, businesses and our economies. This invisible threat touches every aspect of our lives, not least our ability to fly.
In stopping international travel in its tracks, this virus has hit the aviation and travel industries the hardest. We recognise this challenge and we’re working to do all we can to help. But there is a fine balance between protecting the public from imported cases and keeping businesses alive. Aviation is a global business that operates through international markets. Unless we can control the virus and its ability to spread, we will never be able to confidently travel and rebuild without the threat of it being present.
But we have made progress this year in controlling the virus. The introduction of passenger locator forms to help track the virus across borders has meant we’ve been able to open up countries deemed safe to travel through the Travel Corridors policy. This went some way to encourage safe travel, but this is just the start, and I know industry is as keen for us to do more as we are.
And so that’s what we’re doing. Back in September, the Prime Minister tasked the Global Travel Taskforce with creating a programme to allow for early release from self-isolation through testing. The Taskforce has worked at pace on a means to test international arrivals to the UK. As a result, we’ve cut the self-isolation period down to just five days to allow people to travel more freely, without losing important time isolating upon return.
Like everyone with a passion for travelling I’ve been deeply distressed at the damage to the UK’s burgeoning travel industry. But there were no easy solutions to the problem. Throughout the summer, experts warned that a single test on arrival in the terminal would pick up only a tiny proportion of infected people. Our neighbours in Europe tried testing on day of arrival but had to abandon it as the number of imported cases rose. That’s why we stuck with self-isolation plus Travel Corridors while looking for a longer-term solution. I believe Test to Release is that.
Not only do we want to protect flight routes we also want to protect jobs too, particularly in an industry that generates 230,000 jobs in the UK and contributed £22 billion to the economy before the pandemic hit. That’s why we’re offering a new package of financial support for airports and the ground handlers serving them, to shore up jobs and reinforce local economies. Opening in the New Year, this package will boost our airports as we look forward to a bright future in 2021.
The Chancellor also recently announced extending the furlough scheme to help provide a wall of protection against the loss of jobs from the fallout of coronavirus. This is in addition to the £1.8 billion provided to the industry through Covid Corporate Financing.
This, along with guaranteeing travel vouchers, reversing the curfews for hospitality operators in airports and taking action on airport slots so airlines don’t use valuable resources to needlessly fly, has gone some way in protecting the aviation industry.
But as we look to the future and take to the skies again, we must learn lessons from this pandemic to ensure the damage to the industry is never felt like this again. I am inspired by the commitment and support of the aviation industries in rebuilding the sector, and the protection it has offered to its employees and consumers, ensuring their welfare is safeguarded too. I know there is still more to do before we can enjoy risk-free travel once again, but we are laying the firm foundations to help rebuild a sector fit for the future and stronger than ever before.