The CEO of Manchester Airports Group (MAG) said that airlines and airports are “effectively closed businesses”, and warned that parts of the sector “will need to decide quickly what they must do to secure their future until the situation improves”.
Following the government’s decision to ban holidays in the UK and abroad as part of the four-week lockdown set to come into effect in England this week, Charlie Cornish bemoaned the lack of communication on the policy to the travel industry.
“Twitter is not the place where you want to find out that the Government is effectively shutting down the business you run, but that’s what happened to the leaders of the UK aviation industry on Saturday,” Cornish said in an article posted on the group’s website.
“The Government’s decision to ban people from travelling abroad came without warning and with no discussion with the industry about the support it will receive to help it get through this period.
“Given the huge impact on the hundreds of thousands of people working in the aviation and travel industry, it is shocking that the Prime Minister didn’t consider the shutdown of international travel worthy of mention in his press conference on Saturday evening.
“The leaks reported across social media were finally confirmed by Government at 11pm, with a sentence towards the bottom of the detailed guidance that was emailed around.”
This week MAG member airports London Stansted and Manchester airport hiked their drop-off fees in an attempt to recoup some of the lost revenue caused by the pandemic.
Cornish warned that “An urgent package of [government] support must materialise”, including a relief from business rates, as well as “creative measures, such as a review of passenger taxes to help win back popular routes, to plot the quickest possible route to recovery”.
“Our sector was one of the first hit by this pandemic and one of the hardest hit,” said Cornish. “As major infrastructure businesses, the majority of our income evaporated overnight, while almost all our costs remained.”
“Promises of specific support in recognition of this predicament were publicly made by government, but never materialised.
“Meanwhile, we saw supermarkets and some other businesses, which were enjoying a sales bump during lockdown, offered a 12-month holiday from business rates worth hundreds of millions of pounds to the likes of Tesco and Sainsburys. In light of the position the aviation industry has been in since March, this makes no sense to me whatsoever.
“Rail operators and London’s transport system have been given special funding to shield them from the worst impacts of the virus. But while the suggestion that aviation has had dedicated support has been regularly repeated by ministers, in reality this consists of nothing more than the furlough scheme, which – though welcome – has been available to all businesses.
“We have done everything in our power to mitigate the impact of the biggest crisis our industry has ever faced – significantly reducing costs, seeking financial support from shareholders and introducing safety measures to ensure travellers feel safe and secure. We have also had to take the regrettable step of putting the jobs of some of the people who work for us at risk in the last few weeks.
“Meanwhile, government policy has bit-by-bit closed-off the most popular destinations for British travellers – destinations often with infection rates a tiny fraction of those being seen across the UK.
“We’ve been told to trust the science throughout this pandemic, but none of these decisions – including the latest hammer blow delivered over the weekend – appear to have a clear scientific rationale. One certainly hasn’t been shared with the people who run airports, airlines and travel companies.
“Tens of thousands of jobs have already been lost across the industry as a result of the situation we find ourselves in. Much of this could have been avoided had the Government followed through on its promise of a targeted support package for our sector. This package would have recognised the role the UK’s global links are going to play in our economic recovery – a recovery that will take place when our “island nation” status will not just be a geographical fact, but a symbolic reality as we exit the EU.
“The Government must still hit the deadline it set for itself of having passenger testing up and running by 1st December, something I had intended to be writing about today. This is a core element of our ‘exit strategy’ from this second lockdown.
“If countries like Germany were the hare, racing ahead in establishing a system that got people flying again, we hoped to be the tortoise – slow out the blocks but with a regime we were told would be “world leading” when in place.
“Progress on this front was vital, if airlines were to have to the confidence to schedule services for next summer, and passengers the confidence to book seats.
“Instead, we are reacting to news that leaves many in our industry facing a very bleak future.”