Southampton celebrates the return of British Airways

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After what has been a truly challenging year at Southampton following the demise of Flybe, the impact of COVID-19 and subsequent travel restrictions on airlines and the delay on a decision on the airport’s runway extension, Southampton is closing the year with some good news. British Airways has unveiled that it will be launching 11 new European routes from the airport in summer 2021.

The exciting summer schedule will see BA CityFlyer connect customers travelling from England’s south coast with popular holiday destinations in Spain (Malaga, Ibiza and Palma de Mallorca), Italy (Florence), Portugal (Faro), Greece (Mykonos), France (Bergerac Dordogne Perigord, Limoges-Bellegarde and Nice Cote d’Azur) and Germany (Berlin), as well as Edinburgh in Scotland. The airline will operate up to 17 flights each weekend between 1 May and 31 October 2021. Flights will be operated using BA CityFlyer’s existing fleet of Embraer 190 aircraft.

“This is an exciting opportunity for the British Airways family,” said Tom Stoddart, Managing Director of BA CityFlyer. “The ideal location of the airport and excellent facilities on offer will hugely benefit our customers along the South Coast as they plan to take to the skies again and book a well-deserved holiday in the sun.”

Southampton’s Operations Director, Steve Szalay, described the announcement as “fantastic news” for both the air transport hub and the surrounding region during what has been one of the most challenging years.

“It’s also great to see BA return to the airport once again and the range of excellent destinations on offer is sure to be a welcome early Christmas present for passengers looking to plan a European holiday next summer.”

Southampton has submitted a planning application to Eastleigh Borough Council to extend its runway by 164cm(538ft) to increase the number of flight and the type of aircraft that can land. It was initially hoped a decision would be taken before the end of the year, but that decision has been delayed until the new year.

“We’ve always been clear that the runway extension is critical to the survival of Southampton Airport, which is why it’s important we take on board all feedback to ensure all stakeholders are aligned, supportive and the right decision is reached for our community. We will be submitting additional information to Eastleigh Borough Council to review early in the New Year.

Cardiff Airport named new base for Wizz Air UK

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Wizz Air UK has increased its footprint in the UK with a new base at Cardiff Airport – it’s fourth UK base alongside London Luton, Gatwick and Doncaster Sheffield. The airline will allocate one Airbus A321 aircraft to its Cardiff base launching nine new leisure routes to destinations including Alicante, Faro, Larnaca Tenerife.

Seasonal routes during the summer will also include Corfu, Heraklion and Palma de Mallorca and routes to Lanzarote and Sharm El Sheikh during the winter season. The new routes will increase the annual capacity of Cardiff Airport by more than 350,000 seats, providing local passengers with even more affordable and exciting travel opportunities on their doorstep.

Ken Skates, Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales described the news as “a positive step that will help Cardiff Airport emerge from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.” He added that the new Wizz services will “increase choice for passengers, create jobs and add to the airport’s economic benefits.”

Wizz Air’s first venture into Wales represents a significant investment in Cardiff Airport and a boost for the local economy as it is expected to create more than 40 direct jobs and more than 250 indirect jobs, supporting industries such as aviation, transportation, hospitality and tourism.

“The fact that one of the leading low-cost carriers in the world has chosen to set up their next base at Cardiff is fantastic news for Wales,” said Spencer Birns, interim CEO at Cardiff Airport. “The Wizz Air UK base will bring a huge amount of choice for our customers to travel to some of the most popular holiday destinations from Cardiff, at affordable prices. We know many people living in Wales are craving a well-deserved holiday after such a challenging year and these new flights will give so many more opportunities for holidays to be planned now that will give us all something to look forward to for new year.”

Meanwhile, Owain Jones, Managing Director of Wizz Air UK, added: “This expansion into Wales brings increased connectivity to the region, so passengers can take advantage of Wizz Air’s ultra-low fares to travel to their favourite sunny holiday spots on-board our young and green aircraft fleet. With the launch of 47 new routes from the UK alone this year, we’re making sure that passengers can make up for lost time in creating amazing travel memories.”

Stansted Airport

Editor’s comment: Locked down (again)…

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Stansted Airport

In line with new lockdown measures in England that came into effect on Thursday 5 November, airports and their associated businesses across the country are bracing themselves for the impact of an international travel ban.

In the days leading up to the Thursday lockdown deadline, airports saw a mass exodus with more passenger traffic than they have seen for months. While the UK’s first nationwide lockdown saw supermarket shelves being raided and loo-roll becoming the must-have currency, this time round rather than hunker down at home some Brits have been a bit more savvy, hopping on flights to escape the impending lockdown. Others have flown off for work while they can or back home to their families. London Heathrow reportedly hired extra staff to meet the demand on the last day before lockdown.

However, as of this morning all outbound international travel will be banned except for in exceptional circumstances. Industry leaders representing UK airports and airlines described the ban as a hammer blow underlining that it would mean “airlines and airports, already hamstrung by quarantine, are closed businesses.”

Criticising the lack of warning that was given ahead of the ban, Charlie Cornish, CEO of Manchester Airport Group (MAG), which owns and operates Manchester, London Stansted and East Midlands airports, said: “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 get it through this period.” He added that, “Twitter is not the place where you want to find out that the government is effectively shutting down the business you run.”

A core exit strategy from this second lockdown and a vital action to help rebuild the UK’s economy must be the government adhering to its own deadline to have passenger testing at airports up and running by the beginning of December. “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 of the blocks but with a regime we were told would be ‘world leading’ when in place,” Cornish concluded.

“Instead, we are reacting to news that leaves many in our industry facing a very bleak future.”

Now is the time for the UK Government to level the playing field and deliver the dedicated support for airports and airlines that has been provided for other sectors. Relief from business rates and policing costs, as well as support for those employees whose livelihoods are at risk and a review of passenger taxes will be critical if airports are to win back popular routes and plot the quickest possible route to recovery.

I hope you enjoy this week’s newsletter and have a great weekend.

Chloë Greenbank,

Editor, Regional Gateway

Airports and airlines respond to new new lockdowns and travel bans

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Responding to the announcement of a ban on international leisure travel as part of new lockdown measures in the UK, Henry Smith, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Future of Aviation, said: “The COVID-19 announcement on international travel restrictions is another serious blow to the already beleaguered aviation, travel and tourism industries, its employees and the communities who rely on them.”

He added that the announcement reinforces the need for immediate financial support to help our aviation industry survive. “We can’t have a global Britain without a thriving aviation sector and the consequences of failing to act to protect them are simply unthinkable.”

Smith’s message was echoed by Karen Dee, Chief Exeutive of the Airport Operators Association (AOA) and Tim Alderslade, CEO of Airlines UK. In a statement the pair described the announcement as a 180-degree reversal of policy, since the UK Government added the Canaries to the travel corridors list just last week.

“Aviation has been devastated by the pandemic and has essentially never had the opportunity to recover. A ban on international travel means airports and airlines, already hamstrung by quarantine, are closed businesses and will require financial support now – which other sectors like hospitality have received, alongside a comprehensive restart package.

“This needs to include immediate additional economic support for the winter and steps to support recovery, including urgent roll-out of a testing regime, business rates relief for airports, and an emergency waiver of Air Passenger Duty that will be essential for enabling and stimulating international travel – absolutely vital for the UK economy – for as long as we are living with this virus.”

The pair also underlined that hundreds of thousands of jobs are on the line, as is the UK’s economic recovery.

Meanwhile, Charlie Cornish, CEO of Manchester Airports Group (MAG), warned of the need for airports to act quickly to secure their future if urgent support is not provided.

Cornish reiterated that the British Prime Minister should offer an “urgent package of support” to aviation, pointing to dedicated support given to sectors such as retail, hospitality and the rail industry, while aviation has been left to fend for itself.

He also bemoaned the fact that the industry learned of the new travel ban on social media. He said: “Twitter is not the place where you want to find out that the Government is effectively shutting down the business you run.”

MAG, which operates Manchester, London Stansted and East Midlands airports in the UK, has recently begun a consultation proposing that up to 892 jobs at its airports will be sadly made redundant. The group has consistently called for more targeted support for aviation since March when the pandemic and the first lockdown decimated its passenger base.

“Our sector was one of the first hit by this pandemic and one of the hardest hit,” he said. “Promises of specific support in recognition of this predicament were publicly made by government but never materialised. Tens of thousands of jobs have already been lost across the industry as a result of the situation we find ourselves in. An urgent package of support must materialise. That must include relief from business rates and policing costs.”

covid testing at heathrow collinson

Government’s commitment to testing welcomed by UK airports

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covid testing at heathrow collinson

Following pressure from industry associations, trade bodies and aviation stakeholders, the UK Government has launched a new Global Travel Taskforce to consider how a testing regime for international arrivals could be implemented to boost safe travel to and from the UK. It will also look at what steps can be taken to facilitate business and tourist travel through innovative testing models and other non-testing means and more broadly, what steps can be taken to increase consumer confidence to support the recovery of international travel.

The Department for Transport and the Department of Health and Social Care have been working extensively with clinicians, health experts and the private testing sector on the practicalities of testing international arrivals.

To accelerate the work currently being done on proposals for a future testing regime, the taskforce will look at the feasibility of these initiatives based on a single test taken after a period of self-isolation. It will also explore alternative testing models, including pilots with partner countries to ascertain whether self-isolation could be undertaken pre-departure.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps conceded that, “Our understanding of the science now means we can intensify efforts to develop options for a testing regime and help reinvigorate our world-leading travel sector.” He also stated that, “This new taskforce will not only help us move towards safer, smoother international travel as we continue to battle this virus but will also support global connectivity – helping facilitate more covid secure travel whilst protecting the population from imported cases.”

The group has revealed that it will consult closely with partners from the aviation, travel, healthcare and testing sectors to implement measures to support the recovery of the travel sector.

The Airport Operators Association (AOA) has welcomed the Government’s commitment to testing as a first step, however it has also warned that a system must be implemented as quickly as possible.

“We have been talking about testing since June and many other countries around the world are already successfully using it. We must start the operation of the scheme as quickly as practicalities allow so the UK is not left behind. We believe that from a health perspective a testing regime can be far preferable to just relying on quarantine,” said Karen Dee, AOA Chief Executive. She also explained that airports will work with the Government to get a testing system up and running as quickly as possible.

She added that, “Today’s announcement must be the start of a renewed focus on our sector – it is essential that the Government bring forward the promised Aviation Recovery Package of support including business rates relief for airports in England and Wales, continuation of VAT-free sales airside, funding for the CAA and a temporary suspension of Air Passenger Duty.”

These much needed steps Dee added, will help support airports as they look to tackle the challenging winter months ahead.

“This announcement is positive and encouraging, but it is vital that the Government step up its support to protect our international connectivity,” she concluded.

UK aviation at risk without government support

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Airports across the UK have once again been let down by the UK Government as it fails to recognise the dire situation facing airports and has yet to offer financial support targeted specifically at airports.

Following the unveiling of the UK Chancellor’s Winter Economic Plan, the Airport Operator Association’s (AOA’s) Chief Executive, Karen Dee, said that, “For months and months, the aviation industry has called for targeted support, but still nothing is forthcoming. The government appears blind to the scale and urgency of the crisis facing the UK’s airports.”

Throughout the pandemic, UK airports have had to effectively shutdown to commercial traffic, leaving them with in some cases 99% fewer passengers almost overnight.  Dee highlighted that even with the existing government support, the loss of revenue is enormous.

She warned of, “Significant financial and job losses throughout the UK’s network of regional airports,” as she pointed out that projections by the AOA show that up to 110,000 airport and airport related jobs are at risk.

Underlining the need for testing to be introduced to help get the industry back up and running again, Dee said that, “The continued dithering and delay on testing by government must end with the introduction of a robust testing system without any further delays.

“Airports across the UK need help now to survive the challenging winter months including business rates relief for airports in England and Wales, continuation of VAT-free sales airside, funding for the CAA, a temporary suspension of APD and a longer-term package of financial support that promotes, protects and enhances our global connectivity as our sector looks towards the long journey to recovery.

“The future of UK connectivity and global Britain is being put at risk by the continued lack of action from the government it is essential that they deliver this support and deliver it now.”

 

UK airports call for urgent business rates relief

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Following an unprecedented collapse in air traffic and passenger numbers, the Airport Operators Association (AOA) has called for urgent business rates relief for the UK’s air transport hubs.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic having decimated the aviation industry, airports are still having to pay more than half a million pounds a day in business rates. The AOA is calling for a year-long relief from business rates for all airports in England and Wales in line with those afforded to the hospitality, leisure and retail sectors.

“Commercial aviation in the UK has weathered the worst four months in its history and faces a lengthy recovery with passenger numbers not expected to reach pre-Covid levels for a considerable period. Our industry is on its knees and the government needs to do much more to support airports in recovering from COVID-19,” said Karen DEE, Chief Executive of the Airport Operators Association.

According to the AOA airports in England have paid more than £70 million in business rates since the start of the lockdown in March despite passenger numbers being down by around 97%. It has also found that the annual cost of business rates for airports in England is more than £210 million. And in Scotland and Northern Ireland, airports have been given substantial domestic rates relief for a year from the respective devolved authorities.

Dee added that, “Whilst many businesses have benefitted from business rates relief, airports in England and Wales have been forgotten and this is constraining their ability to survive through continued restrictions imposed on their operations and to help power the economic recovery of the country.

That our airports have been paying £500,000 in business rates every day during the lockdown reflects that the government simply has not grasped the severity of the challenge and threat that the pandemic has posed and continues to pose to our sector.

She concluded that a 12-month business relief programme will provide essential support for the UK’s beleaguered airports. It will also allow them to play their much-needed role in restarting the country’s economy.

UK airports welcome introduction of ‘safe travel’ list

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With the UK Government set to remove travel restrictions on a list of 60 countries from Friday 10 July for travellers who live in England, airports across the UK have welcomed the Department for Transport’s ‘Safe Travel’ list which has been unveiled in time to kick-start the summer season.

Doncaster Sheffield Airport’s Aviation Development Director, Chris Harcombe, said: “We welcome the news as it is critically important to the start of recovery for the aviation industry.” The airport’s runway has remained operational throughout the coronavirus pandemic for freight operations moving perishable goods and PPE, but Harcombe has welcomed the relaxation of the government’s self-isolation rule for passengers arriving in the UK.

The government’s 14-day quarantine rules on inbound passenger travel will be relaxed from 10 July while non-essential travel restrictions from the Foreign and Commonwealth (FCO) ceased on 4 July. “Our first post-lockdown flight took off on Wednesday and the latest announcement means that more passengers can look forward to getting away for a long-awaited summer break,” Harcombe added.

The government’s safe travel list includes the majority of destinations served by Doncaster Sheffield Airport and its two main operators Wizz Air and TUI. These include popular holiday destinations such as Lanzarote, Tenerife, Palma de Mallorca in Spain, Kos and Rhodes in Greece, Tunisia, Cyprus and Turkey, with TUI flights recommencing from 1 August.

“The safety and well-being of customers and colleagues is the number one priority at Doncaster Sheffield Airport, that continues to strictly follow all guidance from Public Health England and the relevant authorities. Passengers will see our enhanced safety measures within the terminal building include social distancing, the use of safety screens, hand sanitiser stations and an enhanced cleaning programme. Passengers and staff will asked to wear face coverings at the airport and to follow the up to date public information displays,” Harcombe concluded.

Meanwhile Charlie Cornish, Group CEO of Manchester Airports Group (MAG), said: “These travel corridors will open up the chance for people to enjoy a well-earned break abroad and directly benefit the hundreds of thousands of people whose jobs depend on air travel for their livelihoods – whether they work in aviation or for the UK’s tourism and hospitality businesses, which can now welcome the first overseas visitors we will have seen for months.

“The government should continue to take a risk-based approach to quarantine arrangements and, where possible, build more air bridges to key tourism and business destinations with low infection rates. Each one will help protect jobs and preserve billions of pounds worth of economic activity in the UK.”

Airport jobs continue to be at risk as a result of COVID-19

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In the wake of large-scale expected job losses at airports across the UK, the Airport Operators Association (AOA) has called for the UK Government to take robust action to support the country’s beleaguered aviation sector.

With future airline scheduling and passenger numbers forecast to be significantly lower year-on-year, analysis of the association’s member airports suggests that up to 20,000 jobs are at risk. The effect the downturn in traffic at UK airports has on the businesses and wider community around the sites cannot be underestimated. AOA argues that airport operators only directly employ a small proportion of people working at an airport and many other jobs are supported by activity linked to UK airports. Subsequently, the total potential job losses expected across all UK airports and their local business communities is likely to exceed 110,000.

Figures from IATA estimate that from June 2020 traffic will be reduced by 154 million passengers. This in turn will have a knock-on effect on a large portion of airports’ expected revenue and will force cost-cutting measures on operators.

AOA is recommending that the UK Government adopts a range of actions including relief from business rates payments for 2020-2021 in line with the relief granted to the hospitality and retail sectors, aiding companies’ cashflow. It is also asking for a guarantee to support UK airports with their employment costs beyond the October end of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Other measures being suggested include suspending Air Passenger Duty (APD) for at least six months and replacing the UK’s quarantine policy with a risk-based proportionate approach which includes additional public health measures for passengers arriving from high-risk countries.

“We face considerable challenges in recovering from the devastating impacts of COVID-19 and we are calling on the government to do much more and act with urgency to protect jobs in the aviation sector, many of which are highly-skilled,” said Karen Dee, AOA’s Chief Executive.

“These job figures clearly show that a key component of the UK’s infrastructure is on its knees, with no relief to the current crisis expected. Government needs to recognise the immense crisis facing the country’s airport communities and take action to support UK aviation and protect livelihoods.”

Editor’s comment: Unwanted. Unworkable. Unpopular.

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This week saw the introduction of the UK’s 14-day quarantine rule for passengers arriving from overseas into any of the UK’s transport hubs including airports. However, questions remain on how the quarantine is being enforced and why it is being implemented now.

The television network ITV reported how one passenger who arrived at Heathrow Airport from Switzerland on Monday 8 June said he wasn’t informed of the need to self-isolate. To make matters worse the passenger said he wasn’t feeling well and was going to take the tube into central London. Although he said his symptoms were not related to COVID-19, the lack of restrictions on passengers arriving at one of the UK’s air transport hubs and having to self isolate but not until after they’ve been able to travel on public transport raises concerns.

The UK Home Secretary Priti Patel says the decision to introduce a quarantine period now is “guided by science”. But Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, disagrees. Speaking at a Downing Street briefing, he made it abundantly clear that a blanket quarantine policy is appropriate only when a country with a low infection rate is faced with people coming in from many nations with worse records.

The Airport Operators Association (AOA) argues that the UK quarantine will have a “devastating impact on the industry and put jobs at risk”. It has called for health measures and “air bridges” to allow travel to low-risk countries while protecting the public from high-risk arrivals. It is also asking for Business Rates Relief for all UK airports.

Meanwhile, British Airways parent company IAG, supported by low-cost rivals easyJet and Ryanair, is fighting back against the UK’s quarantine legislation. In a pre-action protocol letter to the British Home Office, the airlines describe the restriction as unnecessary, citing that the measures are more severe than the ones that are already applied to the people who are confirmed to be infected with the coronavirus.

Unworkable. Unwanted. Unpopular. The hope from those in the industry is that the quarantine measures will be dropped or altered before the end of the month.

Stay safe, stay healthy and have a good weekend.

Chloë Greenbank, Regional Gateway Editor.

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