Airlines UK fear imminent collapse over travel restrictions

British air carriers regrouped within the trade body Airlines UK have called for support from their government to help them stay afloat. The trade body is asking the government to amend the current COVID-19 travel rules.  As the peak of the summer season approaches, the airlines fear further job losses and deteriorating operations across the sector if travel remains restricted.

The affected airlines, including British Airways, easyJet, and Ryanair called Britain’s May 17th travel restart “inadequate” and said they failed to encourage travel. The restart followed a four-and-a-half-month ban on international and leisure travel.

“If a meaningful reopening is not possible during the summer… then targeted economic support will be essential to ensure UK airlines are able to reach the point when a restart is possible, in order to protect many tens of thousands of jobs,” wrote Airlines UK chief executive Tim Alderslade in a letter to finance minister Rishi Sunak.

Alderslade warned that the absence of government action to reopen travel or provide additional support further magnifies the risk of job losses and destabilizes the unsustainable debt levels taken on by carriers.

On June 10, 2021, UK Airlines threatened  over 30,000 job cuts, coupled with billions in pre-tax losses. As hopes for a successful summer season deteriorate, the letter has urged the minister to implement certain measures for the survival of UK Airlines. This mainly includes deferring airline debt repayment deadlines, extending full furlough support in the aviation sector to the end of April 2022, implementing a “restart grant” scheme to help airlines finance grounded aircraft, as well as allow free unrestricted travel for people who are fully vaccinated.

The letter highlights Britain’s 10-day quarantine and testing requirements categorized for amber list destinations, as a disadvantage for UK airlines when compared to neighboring European airlines that are navigating freer travel restrictions.

UK Airport hubs forecast £2.6 billion summer loss under current travel rules

Alongside the call for government support from British carriers, UK hubs have also joined the plea by forecasting a bleak summer season under the UK’s traffic light system which categorizes travel to and from the UK through a green, red, and amber list system. 

The amber list, which is the most active category, contains countries that require travelers to quarantine for 10 days upon return to the UK. The green list exempts travelers from quarantine on return to the UK and any international travelers that transit through red list countries will be refused entry into the UK.

The Airport Operators Association (AOA) has termed the government’s restrictions as “overly cautious” and projects that UK airports would face an even larger financial impact over the 2021 summer period in comparison to the £2.6 billion loss in summer 2020.

The AOA is calling on the government to discard the current traffic light system, terming it as “failed and damaging” governance over the restart of travel to the UK.

“The government’s overly cautious approach to reopening travel has real-world consequences for the 1.6m jobs in the UK aviation and tourism industries,” said Karen Dee, the AOA chief executive. She adds that with the current ruling system, “aviation is in for an extremely difficult summer,” and that consequently the government should be prepared to offer substantial support to airlines, airports, and tourism businesses. 

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