The International Air Transport Association (IATA) outlined an agenda for the UK to restore its air transport sector to health by embracing a simpler COVID-19 testing regime, ensuring affordable, competitive airport costs, and working for net-zero air transport.
Speaking at the UK Aviation Club, IATA Director General Willie Walsh emphasized the value of face-to-face meetings and the desire of travelers to get flying again.
But he warned that by restricting travel and persisting with expensive PCR testing, the UK had failed to capitalize on its early start in COVID-19 vaccinations, and slipped behind its principal EU partners.
“In terms of day-to-day life, the UK is far more pragmatic in managing COVID-19 than many other states,” said Walsh.
“But its approach to travel continues to focus on restrictions which cannot be justified based on risk.
“Over the period from February to August, the PCR test positivity rate of arriving passengers to the UK was 1%.
“And the positivity rate from testing the general population was 7%. So we can confidently say that travel is not increasing the UK’s COVID-19 risk”.
While welcoming recent moves to cut the number of ‘red list’ countries and finally proposing an end to PCR tests for vaccinated passengers, Walsh warned that problems remain, principally with the new post-arrival antigen test.
The UK is relying on a closed shop of private testing providers, the effectiveness of which the Competition and Markets Authority has described as “a lottery”.
And prices remain high compared to convenient high-street options elsewhere in the world.
COVID-19 document checks have also been identified as a barrier to travel.
The UK must lead with automated digital solutions to take the burden off airlines.
“Manual paper checks by airlines are unsustainable as volumes come back.
“We need to automate the process…airlines are not your border guards,” said Walsh.
The slow UK recovery in air connectivity risks being derailed by the proposed charges increase at the UK’s primary air gateway, Heathrow airport.
Leaked papers reveal Heathrow airport’s owners are seeking 90% increases in charges, adding around GBP100 to the cost of an average family’s holiday.
“It’s time for Heathrow’s shareholders to step up,” said Walsh.
“They have enjoyed steady returns for years. Instead of expecting the travelling public to be covering excessive returns, it’s time for them to invest.
“All eyes will be on the CAA to ensure they are doing their job in protecting the consumer by pushing back on the airport’s outrageous behaviour”.