UK PCR rate double the European rate

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With the UK Government releasing its Global Travel Taskforce framework for easing travel restrictions, research by ABTA – The Travel Association and the Airport Operators Association (AOA) reveals that the cost of PCR testing for international travel in the UK is double that of testing in other European countries. With a PCR test now required on Day 2 after returning to the UK from even the lowest-risk countries, the research also highlights the disproportionate cost of PCR testing for travellers.

On average a UK pre-departure PCR test costs £128 per person, while across eight key destinations the test costs less than half that at just under £62 per person. Those travelling from the UK to a European destination would pay an average of £306 for testing as they will need a UK pre-departure test, a pre-departure test in their destination country at the end of their holiday and a post-arrival test in the UK if they have flown to a green country under the new traffic light system announced on Friday 9 April.

Both ABTA and AOA are calling on the Government to look at whether passengers who have been vaccinated can be exempt from testing when travelling to green list countries.

“The restart of international travel needs to be affordable and accessible for everyone – so that people can take their much-needed overseas holidays and visit the family and friends abroad whom they’ve not been able to see for such a long time,” said Mark Tanzer Chief Executive of ABTA. “Travel to the lower risk, green categorised countries should be as unrestricted as possible. The requirement for a PCR test when you arrive back from a green list country could prove a cost-barrier for many people – we welcome the fact that the Government commits to engaging with industry on this issue. Small changes, like requiring a PCR test only if the individual gets a positive result from a lateral flow test, would make international travel more accessible and affordable whilst still providing an effective mitigation against re-importation of the virus. The Government should also consider whether those who have been vaccinated can be exempt from testing requirements, should scientific evidence suggest reduced transmissibility.”

Karen Dee, Chief Executive, AOA added that the cost of testing could act as a significant barrier to restarting aviation. “With UK pre-departure and post-arrival tests costing around double the average in countries like Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece, UK travellers are penalised for wanting to travel from the UK.”

She also highlighted that, “with the Government offering free rapid tests domestically, it is vital that business travellers and holidaymakers can make use of these for green-listed countries upon their return. The Government should also work to reduce, if not eliminate, the cost for pre-departure tests in the UK.”

Echoing these sentiments, Henry Smith MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Future of Aviation said that “the sky-high cost of PCR tests run the risk of being a major disincentive to travel for many and the Government must ensure that these costs are kept as low as possible, we simply cannot afford to have a framework that burdens people in the UK with double the testing costs of other European nations.

“We should be looking to less expensive and burdensome tests which are now the standard and accepted test in every other part of society rather than having Europe’s most expensive tests which will only make travel unaffordable for many.”

Header image: PCR tests being conducted at the CENTOGENE test centre at Frankfurt Airport in Germany.

AOA responds to Boris Johnson’s statement on international travel

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The Airport Operators Association (AOA) Chief Executive, Karen Dee, has spoken out following the UK Prime Minister’s update on the Global Travel Taskforce on Monday 5 April.

Boris Johnson’s announcement threw summer holiday plans into disarray by delaying for another month the decision on when international travel can resume following the latest coronavirus lockdown. The uncertainty over travel restrictions also means that tens of thousands of jobs within the aviation and travel industry remain at risk.

“It is disappointed that the initial update from the Prime Minister continues to suggest significant barriers to international travel and may push back the date of restart beyond 17 May,” said Dee.

“While a new green category with no isolation requirement on return to the UK is very welcome, potentially costly and onerous testing requirements would limit the possibilities for many people to travel to countries in the green category.”

Adding that she looked forward to further details on the Global Travel Taskforce’s report on 12 April, Dee urged the Government “to scrutinise the evidence provided by industry, health experts and others that set out how a risk-based, proportionate system could open up aviation without quarantine and with affordable, rapid testing.

“Any prolonged closure of UK airports’ key destinations in Europe in particular will have major financial impacts that the Government will need to mitigate.”

Review of domestic APD one of key levers for UK Goverment to boost connectivity recovery

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As one of a handful of countries in Europe to charge Air Passenger Duty (APD), UK airports have welcomed the domestic APD review as part of Sir Peter Hendy’s Union Connectivity Review, which was initiated to explore ways to improve connectivity between the UK’s four nations. However they have also underlined that it must be part of a wider Aviation Recovery Package.

The UK’s APD is the highest such tax in the developed world, double that of the next highest in the EU, which is charged in Germany.

Airport Operators Association Chief Executive, Karen Dee, said: “The recognition of the detrimental impact of Air Passenger Duty and a commitment to review domestic APD to reduce its impact is very welcome. Domestic aviation suffered a double-hit in the last year, with the collapse of Flybe and the COVID-19 pandemic, and this offers a glimmer of hope for the future.”

She also noted that Sir Peter’s review recognised that many of Flybe’s routes were unprofitable prior to the pandemic. “With aviation’s recovery expected to stretch beyond 2025, this will put further routes at risk of not returning quickly or at all, not just domestically but also from regional airports to international destinations.

“That is why the Government’s long-promised Aviation Recovery Package must set out an ambitious strategy to return international and domestic connectivity to the UK nations and regions. APD is one of the key levers that the Government has to boost connectivity recovery but APD reform must be part of an holistic approach. This could include measures such as a regional connectivity start-up fund, Public Service Obligation routes, or waiving of airport charges for key routes as is happening in the Republic of Ireland.”



UK Government must include crisis support for aviation in pathway to easing lockdown

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With aviation the worst-hit sector in 2020 according to ONS economic growth figures released on Friday 12 February, the Airport Operators Association (AOA) is calling for the UK budget to include support for the sector.

AOA’s Chief Executive, Karen Dee, said: “UK aviation has been decimated by COVID-19, as ONS data confirms that aviation was the worst-hit sector in the economy with tourism a close second. Our businesses were the first to be impacted, have been at a near-total shutdown for 12 months and will be the last to recover.”

She added that ONS figures “show the clear-cut case for significant, sector-specific support for aviation and tourism, just like the UK’s main competitors such as Germany, France and the US have provided.

“The Prime Minister should include a road-map out of travel restrictions along with his pathway to easing the UK’s domestic lockdown on 22 February. The Chancellor must urgently set out crisis support for aviation to see through the government-ordered shutdown of international travel and announce an Aviation Recovery Package to boost the recovery once it is safe to restart flights.”

Dee added that failure to support airports now and set out a clear pathway towards restart of the industry will have major impacts on UK jobs and economic growth, not just in the short term but also up to 2025 and beyond. “Not acting now will hamper the UK economic recovery, particularly outside London and the South East, and leave the Government’s global Britain and levelling-up agendas in tatters.”


Airport Recovery Plan calls for clear pathway to restart aviation

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The UK’s Airport Operators Association (AOA) has published its Airport Recovery Plan, based on a report commissioned from business consultancy Steer.

Based on analysis before the pandemic worsened, Steer estimated that passenger numbers would not return to 2019 levels any earlier than 2025 in the most optimistic scenario (a gradual easing of travel restrictions in 2021 in line with a successful vaccine roll-out across the globe).

AOA’s Chief Executive described 2020 as “a devastating year.” With increased restrictions already in place this year, Dee also said that “the start of 2021 has so far dashed airports’ hopes that this year will be significantly better.”

She also underlined that if airports are to survive in the coming years, “this summer must be a success for aviation.” Failing to support airports now and not providing them with a clear pathway towards the restart of the industry will have a major impact on UK jobs and economic growth, not just in the short term but also up to 2025 and beyond.

“A comprehensive Aviation Recovery Package is needed to see airports through the immediate government-ordered shut-down of aviation. This must include targeted financial support as well as a clear pathway to re-start across the four UK nations by easing travel restrictions when it is safe to do so, including through testing.

“The UK and devolved governments should then set out measures to boost airports’ chances to make a success of the recovery. We will be competing fiercely with other countries for the return of other airlines and routes. We cannot afford the UK to lag behind our global competitors,” Dee continued.

According to Steer’s analysis, airports have had to increase debt levels and seek concessions from lenders to provide liquidity to manage this crisis. Already carrying high levels of debt airports are high fixed-cost businesses. Some of their highest fixed costs are government related charges, including business rates, policing and regulatory costs. And with no revenue, this is resulting in significant losses. In addition AOA has previously estimated that 110,000 jobs in aviation could disappear in airports and their supporting businesses.

In addition, if and when a recovery comes, Steer’s analysis suggests this is expected to have challenging impacts for the UK.

The routes that will recover first are short-haul, high-yield routes to popular travel destinations while routes important to business, such as long-haul routes, will see a much slower recovery. This will mean fewer jobs and economic opportunities. It will also undermine the UK Government’s ambitions for a globally trading Britain.

Plus, regions outside London and the South East as well as the three other nations in the UK have seen the worst impacts from the decline in traffic. They are also likely to see a much slower recovery, which will impact the UK Government’s levelling-up agenda and the devolved governments’ economic priorities, such as inclusive growth.

Steer’s analysis also finds that the damage to balance sheets will take years to repair: a recovery in passenger volumes will not see a corresponding recovery in airport revenue. Airports will compete heavily with other European airports for the return of cash-strapped airlines through discounting and incentives while revenue from passengers will be lower due to continuing social distancing measures and economic difficulties.

With the risk that 2021 could look like 2020, the industry urgently needs additional, aviation-specific support from the UK and devolved governments. In its Airport Recovery Plan, the AOA underlines that in the short-term the government needs to:

Significantly increase its financial support to airports to ensure they can stay open to continue to serve the critical and lifeline services that are still flying, such as emergency services, freight and maintenance for offshore oil, gas and wind farms.

It also needs to set out a pathway to ease and ultimately remove travel bans and quarantine measures through an ambitious approach to testing and  vaccination and then lead the work for a common global approach on that basis.

Business rate relief welcomed by airports but it’s not enough

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While UK airports have welcomed the Airport and Ground Operations Support Scheme, which opened for applications on Friday 29 January to assist commercial airports and ground handlers who have been financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, more significant support is being called for.

The UK Government’s multimillion-pound support scheme, for which applications close on 21 February, has been set up to support the aviation sector while the government continues to roll out its vaccination programme.

Commercial airports and ground handlers are able to apply for up to £8 million each to support fixed costs while travel restrictions remain in place, successful applicants can expect to receive their funding by the end of this financial year.

However, Karen Dee, Airport Operators Association’s Chief Executive underlined that when the support scheme was originally announced, the business rate relief was, “very welcome and came alongside a real hope for an initial recovery through the Test-to-Release Scheme. However, the pandemic took a turn for the worse and the outlook for 2021 has worsened significantly.” With airports effectively closed again by the Government’s recently tightened travel restrictions, AOA is now calling for much more significant support to protect jobs and ensure airports are fighting fit to boost the UK’s post-pandemic economic recovery.

Dee also highlighted that while revenues have dropped off a cliff due to the lack of passenger traffic, most airports have remained open, sustaining consistent losses for nearly 12 months, in order to facilitate essential freight, emergency services, military and offshore oil, gas and wind flights.

The Airport and Ground Operations Support Scheme is open for applications until 21 February 2021.

UK airports respond to mandatory hotel quarantine measures

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In response to the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement that arrivals from 22 COVID-19 hotspots will have to quarantine in hotels, Karen Dee, the Airport Operators Association’s (AOA’s) Chief Executive has reiterated her call for aviation-specific support.

Acknowledging that Australia and New Zealand have successfully implemented similar measures, she also underlined that their government-ordered aviation shutdowns have been backed up with more than a billion dollars in combined aviation-specific support. “It’s time the UK Government backed their tough stance on border controls with similar financial support for the industry hit hardest by that stance,” she said.

And although she welcomed that the UK Prime Minister had listened to concerns and ensured that the new measures only apply to a limited number of countries, she also said that strict travel restrictions were only introduced recently in the UK “and it remains unclear what additional public health benefit mandatory hotel quarantine would have.”

Aviation and tourism stakeholders have already noted that foreign holidays are being axed in response to the Prime Minster’s approval of 10-day hotel quarantines and the uncertainty it has created over future travel plans.

To help prevent any further damage to the UK’s aviation sector, Dee added: “It is vital the government now sets when and how we can ease all these measures safely and provide people with reassurance that travel will be possible again in the future.

“Aviation will be vital for the UK’s recovery, and for the UK Government’s ambitions for a globally trading Britain. None of that is possible if the Government keeps laying blow after blow on an industry already reeling from the worst year in aviation history, with areas relying on regional airports dealt the toughest hand.”

Urgent support needed for UK airports following travel curbs

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Following the news at the end of last week that arrivals to the UK from all destinations will be required to quarantine in an effort to prevent the spread of any new variants of COVID, the country’s aviation sector is calling for more government support to survive another long period of travel curbs.

The Airport Operators Association’s (AOA’s) Chief Executive, Karen Dee, stated that: “The closure of travel corridors is understandable from a public health perspective but this adds to the current near-complete shutdown of the UK’s airports, which are vital for our post-pandemic prosperity. This is making a devastating situation for UK airports and communities relying on the jobs and economic benefits that aviation brings, worse.”

AOA is calling for the UK and devolved governments to urgently set out how they will support airports through this deepening crisis. “Business rate support, announced last year and in England not yet even open to applications, is no longer sufficient to ensure airports can weather the difficult months ahead,” Dee said.

With airports having to keep their infrastructure up and running to support vital and critical services, including freight, emergency services, military and coastguard flights, as well as offshore oil, gas and wind operations, which are essential to keeping the UK powered, they are doing so while running on empty.

“There is only so long they run on fumes before having to close temporarily to preserve their business for the future. Government needs to help cover airports’ operational costs by, for example, urgently providing relieve from regulatory, policing, air traffic and business rates costs in the current and the coming tax year,” concluded Dee.

As of this morning all passengers arriving in the UK will need to quarantine for up to 10 days in an effort to prevent the spread of any new variants of COVID. They will also have to show proof of a negative test taken in the previous 72 hours before travelling. A ban on travellers from South America, Portugal and Cape Verde also come into effect on Friday, with scientists fearing the variants seen in Brazil and South Africa might interfere with the effectiveness of vaccines.

The UK Government has said a financial support scheme for airports in England will open this month with Aviation Minister, Robert Courts, saying the move was a response to the closure of all UK air corridors from Monday.

In a tweet Courts said that the Airport and Ground Operations Support Scheme will “help airports reduce” additional costs faced due to the pandemic and that further details will follow soon.

The scheme will involve grants of up to £8m per applicant, to be used to cover fixed costs, such as business rates.

Editor’s comment: What lies ahead?

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Although the end of 2020 brought with it a glimmer of hope following the promise of a COVID-19 vaccine being rolled out around the world and a post Brexit UK-EU trade deal being agreed, the new year has so far got off to a rocky start. New strains of the coronavirus (first detected in the UK and South Africa in December) have prompted dozens of travel bans and widespread concern about what this all means for countries around the world.

Many countries have already reacted by closing their borders and suspending commercial flights to restrict the spread of any new strains and, on Monday 4 January, the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, declared another nation-wide lockdown until the end of February at the earliest with other countries also reintroducing or extending their own lockdowns. It՚s yet another devastating blow to airports and the aviation sector as a whole.

“While airports understand the public health reasons behind the renewed lockdown, it comes on top of the EU’s ban on UK nationals travelling to the EU for non-essential purposes,” said Karen Dee, the Airport Operators Association’s (AOA’s) Chief Executive.

“We are fast approaching a full twelve months of aviation being effectively shut down, with only limited support for UK airports provided to date,” she continued.

AOA is calling on the UK Government to step up its support for the aviation sector and to cover operational losses during the current heightened restrictions, as well as to extend all existing forms of support until aviation is able to operate free from the barriers that have prevented any meaningful recovery to date.

“The UK aviation industry will play a crucial role in enabling the country’s economic recovery and Global Britain, but can only do so if it gets the support necessary to get through the coming months and years,” Dee concluded.

And while Eamonn Brennan, EUROCONTROL’s Director General, is confident that the recovery will start to firm up in 2021 as the vaccine rolls out across the globe, he also warned that continued financial support is required across the aviation sector in the years ahead. “If we’re ready to ՙbuild back better՚ in 2021, we must start tackling core issues, such as the way the aviation system is financed, regulated and integrated,” he said.

It might not be quite the bright, shiny start to 2021 we had all hoped for, but now is certainly not the time to give up. It’s time to buckle up for the long road to recovery, but recover we will!

Otherwise, I’d like to wish you all a Happy New Year and please do get in touch if you’ve got a story you’d like to share.

Best wishes,

Chloë Greenbank

Editor, Regional Gateway


heathrow test and release

Editor’s comment: A step in the right direction

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heathrow test and release

Airports across the UK have this week breathed a collective sigh of relief following the announcement that from 15 December the UK Government will reduce the 14-day period of self-isolation to five days for international arrivals, on receipt of a negative COVID-19 test.

The Government has also introduced financial support designed to provide commercial airports and ground handlers in England with relief equivalent to their business rate costs, capped at £8 million per site.

A spokesperson for Doncaster Sheffield Airport described the news as, “A step in the right direction for what has been a punishing year for airports.”

While passengers will be expected to meet the costs of getting a COVID-19 test themselves, one of Doncaster’s biggest operators Wizz Air is offering passenger discounts on COVID tests. “We are committed to getting the UK flying safely again,” said Wizz Air UK’s Managing Director, Owain Jones. “So it is with great excitement that we announce our partnership with Confirm Testing, through which our customers can secure the necessary testing services at a specially discounted price.”

Andrew Bell, Chief Executive of Regional and City Airports (which owns and operates Bournemouth, Coventry, Norwich and Exeter airports) added:

These announcements are a much-needed boost as aviation looks to bounce back from the greatest challenge it has ever faced, with regional airports having been amongst the hardest-hit sectors by the pandemic… We will continue to lobby hard and work with Government on what other steps can be taken to safeguard the UK’s regional airports.

However, while the Government’s policy on financial support has been welcomed by smaller airports in England, not all airports will see full business rates relief. The UK’s primary hub, London Heathrow – one of the UK’s largest business rates payers, with an annual bill of around £120 million – is a case in point.

John Holland-Kaye, CEO at London Heathrow, underlined that the business rates grants for English airports fails to provide any significant relief for larger airports, which are so crucial to providing the international connectivity needed by the UK after Brexit.

“The proposed reduction in business rates for Heathrow is only 7%, compared to an 82% reduction in passengers,” he said, explaining that despite suffering a £1.5 billion loss in the first nine months of this year, Heathrow will continue to pay a large majority of this sum, as a result of the Government failing to assess the contribution paid by airports on a case by case basis.

“Small airports in England, and all airports in Scotland and Northern Ireland have had a 100% waiver from business rates. The Government’s proposed approach is discriminatory against large airports, and we will now carefully consider our next steps,” Holland-Kaye concluded.

While not music to the ears of all airports, the UK Government’s announcement will certainly go some way to supporting high fixed-operating costs for regional hubs that have seen more than an 80% reduction in passenger traffic, resulting in a catastrophic loss of revenue.

Enjoy your weekend and remember to register for your complimentary copy of the December issue of Regional Gateway magazine by subscribing here.

Chloë Greenbank

Editor, Regional Gateway