The heads of Heathrow, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic united today to call on the government to give clarity on the countries likely to be open for travel this summer.

Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye, British Airways chief Sean Doyle and Virgin Atlantic chief executive Shai Weiss also urged the government “to expedite” talks with the US on re-opening, allow rapid Covid-19 tests for travellers and to recognise digital documentation of testing from May 17.

Doyle said: “We’re optimistic travel can resume on May 17. It’s important we have more detail later this week.

“We’re asking the government to work with other governments which have rolled out world-leading vaccination programmes.”

Weiss said: “We need clarity. We welcome a traffic-light framework, [but] where pre-departure testing is required it has to be based on rapid testing. We can’t have a prohibitively expensive testing system.”

He argued: “Travellers travelling to and from ‘green’ countries should not face testing at all. Travellers from amber countries should not face quarantine. We don’t think quarantine is effective for red countries.

“When the taskforce reports, it will be important to understand the thresholds [for categorising countries] and which countries will be in which categories so we can plan for a restart on May 17.”

Doyle highlighted the development of Covid-certification apps and said: “We need the government to make this part of the restart from May 17.”

Weiss added: “We want to highlight the US opportunity. It’s very important to focus on the corridor between the UK and US. The US has a very successful vaccination programme and they are on track to vaccinate over 70% of the population by May.

“The US CDC [Centers for Disease Control] recommended last week that fully vaccinated people can travel freely domestically.

“Within the traffic-light framework we have an opportunity to get the US on the green list by May 17, but this requires the US and UK to expedite the talks between them.”

Holland-Kaye said: “This is a very different position to last year. We know aviation can resume safely from May 17. We’re calling on the government to give clarity on the countries we can fly to as soon as possible. We know there is enormous pent-up demand for travel.”

Separately, Manchester Airports Group welcomed confirmation of a traffic light system, but a spokesperson said it was “hugely disappointing that the proposed framework includes no provision for a return to restriction-free travel, either now or in the future when the conditions are judged to be appropriate”.

They added: “Aviation has been the sector hardest hit by the pandemic, and its revival is key to the UK’s wider economic recovery. It supports more than one million jobs, helps British businesses to become global success stories and enables families to stay in touch and enjoy hard-earned holidays abroad.

“It is vital that all those who rely on aviation – for holidays, employment or trade – can see a full roadmap to normality, as is the case with every other sector of the economy.

The spokesman for the group, which represents Manchester, East Midlands and Stansted airports, added: “The government must now focus on restoring consumer confidence, providing clarity for travellers and opening up access to more destinations as quickly as possible.

“We will continue working with the government and our industry partners to keep these measures under review, with the ultimate objective of removing restrictions altogether.”