Key figures from across the UK aviation sector are to meet with transport secretary Grant Shapps on Wednesday (18 March) to discuss the support set to be rolled out to airlines and airports.
It comes after chancellor Rishi Sunak promised a dedicated support package for airlines and airports in a wide-ranging announcement on further financial measures to be made available to businesses amid the coronavirus crisis.
While Sunak was not drawn on any specific measures, transport secretary Shapps is expected to meet with the sector on Wednesday following mounting calls for government support for aviation.
Sunak said he would discuss “in the coming days” a support package with Shapps.
Virgin Atlantic, in recent days, has led calls for government support, and said it welcomed the “unprecedented” measures announced by Sunak on Tuesday. “It is right to commit to supporting the aviation sector, which is facing the biggest crisis in its history, following the rapid acceleration and impact of Covid-19,” said Virgin.
“The UK needs a strong, competitive airline sector providing essential connectivity and thousands of jobs to communities around the UK. We look forward to working with the government to ensure these measures are provided to airlines in the most immediate and effective way possible.”
EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren said: “Airlines are facing significant pressure, and without government action there is a real risk to the industry. It will be important to work through the details [and] we are already talking to government.”
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, the trade body for UK registered airlines, said: “This is welcome news and it’s very positive the chancellor has promised a bespoke package for aviation.
“Clearly the detail will be important and we will want to see something sooner rather later, but we look forward to starting these discussions with government in the coming days.”
Pilots union Balpa, meanwhile, said details of any arrangement must be announced swiftly with airlines, airports and pilots, and all employees across aviation, already suffering. “Adequate support must come quickly, and must be used to help workers and protect jobs,” said the union.
General secretary Brian Strutton said: “It is an important step to know the government is recognising the dire impact this crisis is having on aviation and the importance of supporting the industry so that it is there when recovery comes. But we need details, and we need to ensure the measures are targeted correctly and urgently.
“Airlines are having to take unprecedented measures in their fight for survival, and pilots and others in the aviation industry are suffering a huge threat to their incomes. We must ensure that any package of measures to help the industry will be used to help workers in the industry, to avoid job cuts and harmful reductions in livelihoods.”
The wait for specific measures comes against a turbulent backdrop of immediate struggles for the UK airport sector; Gatwick airport announced on Tuesday it was letting 200 staff employed on temporary fixed-term contracts go, and was consulting with employees on further measures to reduce operating costs. These include unpaid leave or temporary salary reductions.
Liverpool John Lennon airport, meanwhile, said on Tuesday its cost reduction measures would include redundancies, temporary lay-offs and reduced working weeks.
“The threat to the whole UK aviation industry should not be underestimated as we await details of the government’s potential support package for airlines and airports, which will be needed to help our industry survive this unprecedented collapse in business,” the airport’s chief executive John Irving said.
Several airports, including Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester, have written to prime minister Boris Johnson warning hundreds of thousands of jobs were at “real risk” owing to the coronavirus downturn.
Karen Dee, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, said the chancellor’s “unambiguous” statement of support for UK businesses on Tuesday was welcome, while measures to support businesses manage cashflows provided reassurance.
“However, with passenger numbers declining rapidly in recent days, airports want to hear the details of the specific support package for the aviation industry as soon as possible,” she said.
“We urge the chancellor to be as bold in this aviation support package as he was on some of the measures announced today [Tuesday] to ensure airports can reassure staff and passengers that they will be there to provide the connectivity the UK needs after the Covid-19 pandemic has receded.”