As the second lockdown in England gets under way, the group representing all the leading airlines has demanded more support from the government.
The chief executive of Airlines UK, Tim Alderslade, has asked Rishi Sunak to “support airlines to cover the costs of empty planes leaving the UK to bring home UK citizens following the travel ban”.
Over the next few days, carriers are operating repatriation flights which will collectively cost them many hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Mr Alderslade said that 30,000 jobs have been lost or announced by UK airlines. He called it: “An economic and personal catastrophe for those affected, and a major blow to the UK economy.
“The Canary Islands, a vital market for the winter season for several UK airlines, was added as a ‘travel corridor’ a little over a week ago, a positive prospect which has also now been reversed.
“With the travel ban, airlines are now in effect closed businesses. Each day that the UK is grounded does further and longer lasting damage.”
Airlines UK welcomed the chancellor’s announcement of extension of furlough to March 2021.
But Mr Alderslade said: “Wage support covers only a portion of the high cost base airlines must cover simply to exist, and carriers face this new lockdown in a far weaker position than when the crisis started in March.”
The government’s Global Travel Taskforce is due imminently to recommend a “test and release” alternative to 14 days of quarantine for arrivals to the UK. It would involve spending around a week in self-isolation, taking a coronavirus test and, if it is negative, ending quarantine.
Airlines UK said the government should subsidise private testing. On Wednesday the prime minister appeared to suggest that NHS facilities could be used.
Abta, the travel association, has added its voice to calls for more government assistance. Mark Tanzer, the chief executive, said: “It is time this government stepped up and supported the UK travel industry.
“Other sectors who have been hit hard by the pandemic have received tailored support from the government – but travel has been left waiting in spite of clear evidence of the harm that is being done.”
The government says it has supported 55,800 passenger air transport employees under the job retention scheme. In addition, it says, the aviation sector has been able to benefit from £1.8bn in financial help.