A United Airlines landing at London Heathrow yesterday became the first flight into the UK with all passengers onboard certified free from COVID-19.

All passengers travelling on yesterday’s flight had been tested for COVID-19 before its departure. Carriers are now calling on the government to introduce pre-flight testing for the virus to open up transatlantic air corridors.

Forty passengers were cleared to travel, with one was refused after testing positive for COVID-19. United Airlines is planning to operate 11 more Newark-Heathrow flights over the coming weeks, with mandatory testing and clearance of every passenger before takeoff.

British Airways launches testing trial

British Airways is also launching a pre-flight COVID testing trial. BA will give volunteer passengers a number of free tests before and after departure on a number of US-UK routes. The trial is aimed demonstrating that flying is safe and the effectiveness of testing over quarantine periods imposed on arrivals.

The government has said over the past few weeks that they will be announcing details of a “test-and-release” scheme. According to some reports, the scheme is set to be put in place in time for the end of the current lockdown in England, due to end on December 2. The measures would be introduced to cut the isolation period for international arrivals.

BA boss: short-term solutions needed

BA chief executive, Sean Doyle, has again called for testing measures to be put in place to help both aviation and the UK’s economic recovery. He said transatlantic trade was worth more than £200bn to the UK economy. He said: “We know we can’t get the economy moving with a 14-day quarantine and research suggests that a seven-day period won’t cut it either. The vaccine is great news but when it has a material effect on travel isn’t clear, so we need short-term solutions.”

BA’s trial is being run in conjunction with American Airlines. The trial will offer free COVID-19 tests to customers travelling on selected flights from Dallas, New York and LA from November 25. Passengers will take a PCR test at home 72-hours before departure which will be watched remotely by medical professionals with a second test will be carried out at Heathrow on landing. A third test will be taken via a saliva sample three days later. BA is hoping the results of this test would demonstrate that only the first two tests would be necessary to identify infected travellers.

Doyle added that other countries, including Germany were also adopting testing measures instead of quarantine. “People want to travel but our skies remain all but closed and the UK is being left behind,” he added.

UK-US Air Services Agreement signed

Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, has signed a new bilateral Air Services Agreement safeguarding the future of air travel between the UK and US past the end of the transition period. The Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, signed on behalf of the US, along with the Transportation Secretary, Elaine Chao.

The arrangement replaces the current EU agreement and preserves the continuation of travel and the economy, helping ensure the UK’s position as a world-leading aviation hub.

Transatlantic routes are used by tens of millions of passengers a year, contributing to a trading relationship with the US worth over £230 billion. The announcement will help ensure that the UK remains open for business with major economies around the world, by maintaining the critical global link. The Agreement will enter into full legal force after completion of both sides’ procedures for an international agreement.


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