The UK aviation recovery is lagging behind the rest of Europe due to government policy, according to Iata director general Willie Walsh, who slammed the UK’s former traffic light policy as “ridiculous”.
Walsh told the Airlines 2021 conference in London: “The UK is definitely lagging and the principal reason is government policy.
“One factor is the UK’s very small domestic market. But the other is the government and its ridiculous traffic light policy. I’ve never seen a traffic light with five or six colours.
“Then there is the cost of testing. They have kept testing in place too long. Antigen tests are still a barrier to travel.”
He argued: “The UK has fallen from the number-one market [for air traffic] in Europe to number four, lagging behind Germany, Spain and France.
“The UK government probably has more data [on travellers] than anyone, but they have not been ready to look at it. They forced people to buy expensive PCR tests when less than 1% – in fact less than half of 1% – have been sequenced.”
Walsh insisted: “The Department for Transport [DfT] has had very little influence on UK government policy. The policy decisions have been taken elsewhere. It is disappointing. The DfT needs to be more vocal about the contribution the aviation industry makes.”
He also hit out at the government over the recently announced increase to air passenger duty (APD) on ‘ultra’ long haul flights from April 2023.
Walsh argued: “It’s ridiculous the government increases APD. It doesn’t have any environmental benefit. I’ve never been able to make any sense of APD.”
The Iata chief suggested “we are through the worst” of the Covid-19 crisis and said: “We’re encouraged by recent developments.”
But he noted: “International air traffic is still lagging. We forecast international travel will be at 44% of 2019’s level by the end of the year. [But] international travel for the year will be around 22% of 2019.”