The new boss of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Willie Walsh, has called for transatlantic routes to be restarted as soon as possible. Speaking today in his new role as Director General of IATA, Walsh backed calls made yesterday by the CEOs of Virgin Atlantic, British Airways and London Heathrow,

Walsh made the point that the US domestic market was recovering and there was little reason to think that those travellers would not be willing to also fly transatlantic.

“We can see that there are people who are very comfortable travelling internally within the US and many of them would be equally comfortable travelling internationally.”

Sean Doyle, CEO of British Airways said yesterday that “Not opening up the UK economy [to the US] is costing the UK about £32 million per day, and means we are missing out on one in 10 business trips. About four and a half million US passengers come to the UK each year and spend about four billion pounds each year. And 4.8 million UK visitors go to the US each year.”

Walsh said:

“The relationship between the UK and US has always been strong. There are very strong economic ties and it would be natural to assume that both governments would want to see connectivity restored as soon as possible. Given the pace of vaccination roll out that has taken place in the US, and in the UK, it should give people reason to be optimistic about transatlantic travel between the UK and US starting in a safe manner in the near future.”

On the wider implications of opening up this international route, Walsh said:

“It is important. It will send a signal to the rest of the world. It will build confidence within the industry and build confidence within those who are supporting the industry. It’s always been a very important market, for everybody not just for carriers based in the UK and US but for all transatlantic traffic, and it would be an excellent indication that things are improving.”

“Economic recovery and growth will not be sustainable without an efficient air transport system, and until we get that aspect of the economic growth we have taken for granted before, this pandemic will remain challenged.”

The UK aviation industry has been vocal in lobbying the government in recent days ahead of the report of the Global Travel Taskforce next Monday (April 12). As well as the CEOs of British Airways, London Heathrow and Virgin Atlantic issuing a ‘wake up’ call to government, the CEO of Easyjet criticised the cost of PCR tests which would make holidays too expensive for families if required this summer, forcing the Prime Minister to say the government would look at the cost:

Test travel regime must be easy and cheap, says PM

Willie Walsh said that he had taken several PCR tests for travel in recent weeks, with varying prices, but all of them too expensive. He said he was also astonished that the UK tests had VAT included in the price of the tests, pointing out that while he understood the UK government felt the tests were necessary, he did not agree they should make a profit on them.