Air travel will not resume if governments impose social distancing restrictions and quarantine arrivals, aviation industry leaders have warned.
Heathrow Airport chief executive John Holland-Kaye told MPs: “We need to agree a common basis on which we can allow people to go to Spain, say, and people to come here from Spain without going into quarantine. Without that, travel won’t be able to resume.”
Senior industry figures appeared before the Transport Select Committee of MPs on Wednesday as the government prepares to unveil its plans for moving beyond the current Covid-19 lockdown.
Holland-Kaye told the committee: “The issue is the measures we need to take to ensure anyone passing through the airport will be at low risk of catching the virus.
“We need a common set of measures, a set of common international standards, so we come out of this in a coordinated way, [and] we need the government to take a lead.”
Airlines UK chief executive Tim Alderslade said: “Airlines don’t support social distancing. The viability of routes would be compromised and it would not work through the whole airport experience.
“It would also be impossible to apply on the journey to and from airport, for example on the tube. We don’t think social distancing is going to work.”
Airlines UK represents carriers including easyJet and British Airways, and easyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren has said the airline expects to keep the middle seats on flights empty upon re-starting operations to comply with social distancing.
Alderslade added: “We have concerns about a 14-day quarantine [of arrivals] and are talking to government about that.”
He suggested: “The evidence from Iata is that there is a relatively low risk [of being infected with Covid-19 on a flight].
“We’re suggesting a graded system, from low touch to severe, with airlines having to comply with local jurisdictions. Level one could involve visible cleaning and hygiene measures, up to level three where all passengers wear masks, there is no circulation in the cabin and no on-board service.”
Holland-Kaye advocated passengers wearing face masks, “reducing touchpoints” and “good sanitising” to limit transmission of the virus at airports.
Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer told MPs: “The industry stands four-square behind the health advice. If quarantine is the way to go, then we will go with it.”
But he said: “It would be useful to know how it fits with other health measures – social distancing and testing – and how it fits with people’s lifestyles so they can make a decision on travel. It would obviously affect short trips.”
Tanzer suggested: “Foreign Office advice and rebuilding consumer confidence will be what helps most.
“The insurance sector has pulled away from travel and the government needs to work with insurers to pull them back. Then the whole system of insolvency protection needs to be looked at again.”
Journalist Simon Calder agreed, saying: “Foreign office advice against travel anywhere indefinitely does not instil confidence in anybody.”
He argued “social distancing and air travel are incompatible” and warned: “A 14-day quarantine rule [for arrivals to the UK] would wipe out overseas trips for the duration of it.”
Deborah Bowen Rees, vice-chair of the Regional and Business Airport Group, warned MPs: “If we don’t get clarity [from the government], airports will have to introduce local initiatives and that won’t give customers confidence.”