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Airline chiefs urge PM to provide roadmap for travel

UK airline leaders united today in urging the government to include aviation in its roadmap for re-opening the economy on Monday, but rejected calls for a firm date for lifting travel restrictions.

The heads of easyJet, Virgin Atlantic, Jet2, Tui and Loganair demanded Prime Minister Boris Johnson make “a clear statement” on re-opening international travel and the government work with the industry on a framework to do it.

Virgin Atlantic chief executive Shai Weiss said the framework should be in place by Easter.

EasyJet chief executive John Lundgren said: “We’re not saying lift all travel restrictions from tomorrow. We’re saying there is a way to lift restrictions safely as the vaccination programme is rolled out and hospitalisations fall.”

He said: “It’s hard for the government to set out dates. There is too much uncertainty at this moment for setting specific dates.

“But we need a clear statement from the Prime Minister for re-opening international travel.

“Airlines can’t just fully restart overnight. What the PM can do is set out what the government’s intentions are for international travel.

“The government has suggested every other sector will be in the roadmap. International travel must be included.”

Johnson has repeatedly promised to lay out a roadmap for re-opening the economy on Monday, February 22.

Lundgren warned: “If there is no roadmap [for travel] it will be critical to have a bespoke support package for aviation to survive.”

Weiss echoed the demands, saying: “We expect to see favourable conditions for reopening the skies by the summer.

“A risk-based framework should be developed, eventually to remove restrictions all together. We’re ready to work with an industry taskforce. We’ll work with government experts to develop it. [But] we need it by Easter.”

Weiss insisted: “Travel can be restarted safely. We don’t think it can be started overnight, but we need to get started. Consumers need confidence to be able to book travel. We expect every other sector will have a roadmap – so too should aviation.”

Jet2 chief executive Steve Heapy agreed: “Consumers want some certainty. They want to get away. They want to see friends and family.

“The [government] roadmap will cover the reopening of schools, of non-essential businesses, of hospitality, but aviation has not been mentioned.

“It will take us a lot of organisation and a number of weeks to go from no activity to operating safely. It makes no sense for an industry of this scale not to be included.

“The industry has got to be part of the message on Monday.”

Dave Burling, Tui chief executive of airlines and markets, added: “We recognise the difficulties and the need to balance the risk. [But] we need to be part of the announcement.”

Lundgren said: “We want the government to say ‘It is our intention to see travel restarted for the summer’ and let’s sit down to see what we can do.”

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