Pilots’ union Balpa has written to the government to officially call for a winter support package for the aviation sector in light of tightened travel restrictions.
The union initially made the call for additional support earlier in the week, after the emergence of the Omicron variant led to stricter curbs.
It has now set out three ‘asks’ of government, which include central funding of all additional tests, the publication of data used to justify the restrictions and a ‘Winter Resilience Fund’ for airlines and other aviation companies.
General secretary Martin Chalk said: “Pilots by their very nature are safety conscious and understand the desire to protect public health. But the measures and restrictions put in place by the government must be proportionate to risk, based on data and not unnecessarily penalise travellers including families reuniting for Christmas and the New Year.
“It is vital the government helps rebuild public confidence and supports aviation by removing the barriers, such as costly private testing, that are putting people off travelling.”
He added: “Support to aviation dried up at the end of summer, yet the principle of supporting loss-making industries whilst government restrictions prevent business as usual, applies as much now as it ever did.
“Holiday and new year traffic is a core part of the winter season for airlines. With this being severely depressed by shattered confidence and restrictions, we need winter support measures to help us weather the storm of Omicron uncertainty.”
Chalk said: “This will ensure we are able to compete with the rest of the world come summer 2022, when we will be needed to take the UK’s ambitions to every corner of the globe.”
The three detailed asks of government outlined in the letter are:
- All mandatory tests for travellers to be provided free by the NHS and not ‘cowboy’ private testing companies, whose profits will largely be made off the backs of families re-connecting over the holidays, many for the first time since Covid. The cost to Treasury would be negligible and the expensive, inconsistent and poor reputation of private testing providers has long been an inhibiting – and at times entirely prohibitive – factor for travellers.
- Additional restrictions must be only data led, ensuring effective border controls do their job whilst allowing safe travel to resume. The government has published no data to justify the latest restrictions, which the World Health Organisation has spoken out against.
- Provide a Winter Resilience Fund to provide an ‘airbridge’ of funding for cash-strapped airlines and other aviation companies that continue to be loss-making, yet need to provide high levels of regular training to maintain vital skills with expensive to run equipment, such as cockpit simulators.