The domestic aviation sector contributed £15 billion to the UK economy before the Covid-19 pandemic and new data shows widespread demand for air travel among UK business leaders.

The importance of domestic and international travel to the economic prospects of individual businesses and the wider economy is highlighted in a new study for London City airport.

The report by specialist consultancy WPI Strategy reveals the majority of UK business leaders see air travel as key to their future economic prospects and would return to the skies if quarantine measures were eased.

A new poll of 515 business leaders in the report shows that:

  • 64% of UK business leaders see air travel as key to their future prospects
  • 88% of leaders of businesses with over 250 employees believe air travel is important to the future success of their business
  • 48% believe the government’s travel and quarantine restrictions was the single biggest barrier to business air travel
  • 76% believe that airport testing would increase confidence when travelling

Airport chief executive Robert Sinclair urged the government’s new Global Travel Taskforce to move quickly to get business air travel up and running again.

He said he hoped the group would “acknowledge the fundamental importance of business air travel to the economic recovery prospects of the UK and other sectors such as hospitality and leisure”.

The Taskforce must move to urgently set out a clear roadmap for the introduction of a testing regime which would ultimately lead to the elimination of quarantine.

This call is supported by KLM which serves 15 UK airports from its global hub at Amsterdam Schiphol.

Sinclair said: “The UK aviation industry is the third largest in the world and a global success story. But it is not just an industry itself, it also acts as an enabler of other industries such as trade, tourism, hospitality, imports, exports and conferences.

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“We know the demand for air travel is there, but restrictive quarantine measures are currently holding business leaders back from flying, and the UK economy from beginning its recovery.

“We sincerely hope that the Global Travel Taskforce both acknowledges how fundamental business travel is and moves quickly to introduce a roadmap for aviation which sets out how a testing regime can be implemented quickly. Doing so could deliver a much-needed shot in the arm for business air travel, boosting economic growth across every region and every sector.”

The total value of domestic aviation in the UK was in the order of £15 billion before the outbreak of the pandemic.

Proportionate to passenger numbers, the breakdown of the impact of domestic aviation on GDP by UK regions and nations is estimated to be:

  • Scotland: £4bn
  • North-East: £300m
  • North-West; £1bn
  • Northern Ireland: £2bn
  • South-West: £700m
  • London: £4bn
  • Midlands: £500m
  • Wales (just Cardiff): £80m

Sinclair was backed by business leaders and politicians concerned that the government’s plans for levelling up the country and increasing the UK’s trade links could be at risk without a speedy introduction of testing.

Stephen Hammond, MP for Wimbledon and chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Business Travel, said: “The economic recovery will be led by the business community and the ability to travel will be key. Business travel adds huge economic value directly and indirectly on industries like events and conferences amongst many others.

“I hope the government will prioritise the need to allow safe travel including pre-travel testing and a new quarantine regime so business  can get back to travelling and building a strong economic recovery.”

Warner Rootliep, managing director of KLM Cityhopper, said: “KLM has a long standing commitment to serve the UK regions. We have rebuilt our regional presence in the UK over the last few months, reopening all routes.

“Connecting the UK regions to the world through our hub in Amsterdam is of vital importance to the regional economy of these communities, especially in these challenging times.

“We hope the Taskforce will be able to define a roadmap that will allow us to eliminate the quarantine measures and reinstall travel confidence so that we can continue to rebuild our regional frequencies that is so vital for the regional economy.”

Gavin Newlands, MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire North and SNP transport spokesperson, said: “The report is confirmation, if any were needed, of the huge economic benefit of regional connectivity regional airports to Scotland. The vital contribution of airports like Glasgow in my Paisley and Renfrewshire North constituency cannot be understated.

“Since the start of the pandemic I have called on the UK government to make good on their promise and support the aviation industry to protect thousands of jobs and time is fast running out for a credible package of support to be delivered.”

London Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Richard Burge said: “If London is to return to being a world city then we need a thriving aviation sector and we need effective ways of testing for Covid-19 at our borders.

“Of course aviation isn’t just vital to London’s recovery alone. Whether it’s through travel and trade into London and then onward in the UK, or arrivals and departures in other UK cities and regions, London-based aviation is intrinsic to our national and regional economies, and to a great extent the economy of much of the world.

“If the government are serious about both ‘Global Britain’ and ‘levelling up’ then they need to have immediate and genuine discussions with the sector about the urgent introduction of airport testing and a targeted support package. ”

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