British Airways chief executive Alex Cruz has called the airline’s survival into question, saying BA “can survive only if the government works with us”.
The BA chief accused the government of “sitting on its hands” and called for the immediate start of a Covid-testing trial on passengers to the allow flights to the US to restart.
In an opinion piece for the Daily Telegraph, Cruz warned: “The sector is fighting for its very survival. Six months into the pandemic we are still flying just 30% of our schedule.”
He noted “every aircraft at Heathrow supports 300 jobs in the supply chain” and said: “We know people want to travel. But without a rigorous, reliable coronavirus testing programme people’s plans are being grounded.
“Heathrow has testing stations set up and ready to go, but their teams are standing idle while our government sits on its hands.
“Thirty other countries have introduced airport testing to unlock the problem, why can’t we?”
Cruz insisted: “British Airways can survive, but only if the government will work with us rather than against us.”
He repeated demands laid out by airline leaders in a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week.
This called for an immediate trial of testing on air routes such as London-New York, a greater list of regional corridors than the ‘islands’ policy announced this week, to include the US, and a 12-month waiver of Air Passenger Duty.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps told MPs this week “we’re working on a test and quarantine policy” and promised to return to Parliament “with proposals currently being worked on with the industry”.
But the transport secretary insisted: “We have to have the science behind this. So far [the government research centre] Porton Down has not approved any test you read about in the press. There are no tests signed off as usable.”
Shapps added: “There is pressure on the testing system. I’m not sure we should be prioritising testing for holidaymakers.”
Senior politicians joined calls for a rapid decision on testing, with former Prime Minister Theresa May telling the government: “If you want to get the economy moving again, get planes flying. If you want to get planes flying, get testing.”
May insisted: “Testing is the way forward. [But] airports are not even allowed to trial tests. Stopping people flying into the UK is not going to stop Covid. It is here.”
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK which initiated the airline chiefs’ letter to the Prime Minister, warned: “Airlines and airports will go out of business if we cannot resume international travel.”