By Helen Coffey, The Independent
The boss of Heathrow Airport has said that the aviation industry’s collapse could be the “equivalent of when the mines closed in the north” if UK travellers have to wait for a coronavirus vaccine before they can fly unrestricted again.
CEO John Holland-Kaye warned that not only would Heathrow be Britain’s only hub airport, but it could end up being the country’s only airport unless things change.
“That would be a catastrophic outcome for the UK,” he told Travel Weekly.
Holland-Kaye also expressed concern that UK airlines would struggle to survive.
“The kind of devastation [could be] the equivalent of when the [coal] mines closed in the north or the Port of London closed in the East End,” he said.
“We cannot allow that to happen.”
Citing British Airways’ chief Alex Cruz’s claims that the airline would not survive without Covid-19 testing for travellers, Holland-Kaye called on the government to support the aviation industry by offering free tests.
“It is absolutely in the national interest that we keep aviation going,” he said. “But we can’t take it for granted without support from government. I don’t mean financial support, I mean allowing people who don’t have Covid to fly.”
Holland-Kaye added: “The aviation sector could be destroyed in this country and that would be a tragedy.”
Other European countries have already started looking into offering free testing for passengers.
Italy, for example, is gearing up to offer “Covid-free” flights thanks to rapid testing.
The scheme makes use of 30-minute swab tests to ensure all travellers have tested negative for coronavirus before boarding their flight.
Initially being trialled at Rome’s Fiumicino airport on two daily Alitalia services to Milan, the initiative is the first in Europe to introduce rapid testing for departing passengers.
If successful, the pilot will be rolled out across other flights in an attempt to help boost the struggling aviation industry.
German flag carrier Lufthansa also announced plans to offer rapid Covid-19 testing to passengers.
The airline is looking to use antigen tests, which can be administered and processed on site and typically take just 15 minutes to yield a result.
This is a much quicker turnaround that the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) swab tests, so far favoured by most airlines, which take several hours to process in a lab.
A Lufthansa spokesperson told The Independent: “Restrictions on travel are a massive barrier to the economy. It is therefore necessary to define framework conditions for adjusting travel restrictions and to find regulations that allow health protection and economic, but also private, exchange across borders.
“In this context, binding negative Covid-19 tests prior to departure could be one element, in addition to measures for health protection that apply in principle, to allow bilateral exceptions to the entry ban.”
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