Aviation chiefs have warned the government they are growing "increasingly concerned" the UK’s aviation, travel and tourism industries are not on a path to sustainable recovery – and that a massive effort is now required to rebuild consumer confidence.
Airlines UK said while the UK had fallen behind its nearest competitors, the move – confirmed last week – to ease quarantine for fully vaccinated arrivals from the US and EU was welcome.
However, in a letter to transport secretary Grant Shapps, the bosses of seven major UK carriers said it was vital the government now re-focused on building momentum.
Together, they have called for an expanded green list, an easing of the testing burden on travellers, and greater certainty in the rules for travel for the remainder of the summer.
The letter was signed by Shai Weiss, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic; Johan Lundgren, chief executive of easyJet; Sean Doyle, chief executive of British Airways; Steve Heapy, chief executive of Jet2.com and Jet2holidays; Andrew Flintham, managing director of Tui UK and Ireland; Jonathan Hinkles, chief executive of Loganair; and Eddie Wilson, chief executive of Ryanair.
"We must now build on this momentum by adding more countries to the green list next week and by reducing the still onerous and increasingly disproportionate burden of testing on travellers," wrote Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK.
"We are increasingly concerned the UK is not on a path to a sustainable recovery of aviation due to the continued restrictions that are being imposed on international travel."
Airlines UK said the government should have more faith in the UK’s "vaccine wall" and the effectiveness of the jabs currently being rolled out in the UK, EU and US against the main variants of Covid-19 – including the Beta variant, which is reportedly responsible for the UK’s "amber plus" rules for France.
Additionally, the group said the global outlook on Covid and travel had changed since the UK’s traffic light system was revealed in April and implemented in May.
"Green status should increasingly become a default, given the changing risk equation, and mirroring the approach to domestic restrictions," said Airlines UK. "On this basis, there is no reason why much of Europe, including the key volume markets, the US, Caribbean and other major markets, cannot turn green next week in time for the remainder of the summer peak."
On testing, Alderslade’s letter warned the cost and administrative burden of testing would continue to have a huge impact on aviation – running to around £100 per flight per passenger, on average.
"It is unclear whether the government has understood this risk," read the letter. "We have seen no evidence that this regime is necessary for fully vaccinated travellers or those from green countries, or that effective, cheaper rapid tests cannot be used from higher risk destinations."
Consumer confidence, in particular, remains a significant concern, with the leaders stating they were seeing "no real recovery" in people’s appetite to resume flying again.
"The UK aviation recovery is far behind countries in Europe," they said. "Travel bookings in Germany are now at 60% of 2019 levels. France is at 48%. Here in the UK, we are booking just 16% of trips compared to pre-pandemic. This is not sustainable.
"Despite tentative steps forward, time is fast running out to put the UK’s aviation, travel and tourism industries back on track for a sustainable recovery to protect the millions of jobs they support. We cannot afford to stand still over this vital summer period, and urge you [Shapps] to act.