With new travel restrictions coming into force today, the UK government has launched a new financial support scheme for airports in England which will open this month.
The move, which was announced by Aviation minister Robert Courts, was in response to new measures resulting in the closure of all UK air corridors from today. Courts said the government would provide grants to airports in England by the end of this financial year.
The new rules came into place at 4am this morning and will be in place until at least February 15. The measures have been brought in to protect the UK from new strains of COVID-19 found in countries such as Brazil and South Africa. Previously, they allowed passengers from countries with travel corridors to forgo quarantine on arrival in the UK. As a result of the closure, all arrivals into the UK will need to isolate for up to 10 days which can be shortened to around five days with negative tests as part of the ‘Test and Release’ scheme.
All travellers need proof of negative test before travelling
All travellers to the UK, including UK nationals, will also have to show proof of a negative test taken in the previous 72 hours before travelling. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab also told the BBC’S Andrew Marr Show that checks on travellers who must self-isolate and enforcement checks at borders would be “ramped up”.
The restrictions follow a ban on travellers from South America, Portugal and Cape Verde which came into place last week following concerns about a new COVID variant identified in Brazil. Scientists fear the variants may interfere with the effectiveness of vaccines and evade parts of the immune system.
Airport Operators Association Chief Executive Karen Dee said the industry was already “running on fumes,” adding that the government needed to urgently set out packages to help both airports and the communities that reply upon them to survive the pandemic. A scheme to help airports was first announced in November and included grants of up to £80m per applicant to cover fixed costs such as business rates. As yet, no start date has been announced for the scheme.
She said: “The closure of travel corridors is understandable from a public health perspective but this adds to the current near-complete shutdown of the UK’s airports, which are vital for our post-pandemic prosperity. This is making a devastating situation for UK airports and communities relying on the jobs and economic benefits that aviation brings, worse.”
Details of airport support packages need setting out as matter of “extreme urgency”
“The UK and devolved governments now need to set out as a matter of extreme urgency how they will support airports through this deepening crisis. Business rate support, announced last year and in England not yet even open to applications, is no longer sufficient to ensure airports can weather the difficult months ahead.”
“Airports are currently keeping their infrastructure open to support vital and critical services, such as post, freight, emergency services, military and Coastguard flights, as well as to help keep the lights in the UK on through supporting flights to offshore oil, gas and wind operations.”
Airports running “on fumes”
Dee added: “Airports are doing so while running on empty – there is only so long they can run on fumes before having to close temporarily to preserve their business for the future. Government needs to help cover airports’ operational costs by, for example, urgently providing relief from regulatory, policing air traffic and business rates costs in the current and the coming tax year.”
BALPA, the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) has welcomed the support scheme for airports, but renewed its call for an aviation wide COVID-19 recovery plan.
General Secretary Brian Strutton said: “We are pleased our message that aviation needs real support is being heard. This support for airports is a good step, but we must ensure that no part of the UK aviation sector is overlooked. On top of Thursday’s announcement of 1,100 Norwegian Air jobs at risk, a major US tour operator has now said it will look at other hubs for European trips instead of London. The situation is becoming desperate.”
BALPA: industry needs “full action plan”
“The industry as a whole is really suffering and we continue to urge the Government to commit to a full action plan for aviation with targeted packages of support for the whole sector.”
The government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance told the press briefing on Friday that some of the new variants may be able to “get round” the Covid vaccines but it was “really quite easy” to adjust the vaccines to deal with mutations in the virus.