Airlines UK sets out four asks of government

Airlines UK has set out four key priorities it is asking of government ahead of the next Global Travel Taskforce review on June 28.

The group, which represents carriers based in the UK, has written to transport secretary Grant Shapps to make the demands.

It hopes implementing the calls will help achieve a safe, sustained and meaningful restart to international travel.

The letter, signed by chief executive Tim Alderslade, says: “Given the incredible efficacy of vaccines and their critical role in easing domestic restrictions, we believe that the framework can safely be adjusted to provide a pathway for vaccinated people to travel without restriction, alongside steps to reduce restrictions for green and amber categories, making them more proportionate for travellers.”

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Its first point is to exempt vaccinated travellers returning in the UK from green and amber list destinations from testing and isolation, with verification using the NHS app.

The letter quotes Public health England data that shows the efficiency of vaccines against hospitalisations, including against known variants.

It says: “This effectiveness has been recognised by Europe, which is now opening its travel and leisure markets by introducing waivers from testing and isolation requirements for fully vaccinated persons, including arrivals from major markets such as the US. Today 32 countries exempt travellers from quarantine and 27 from testing if fully vaccinated. The failure to adopt a similar approach risks the UK falling further behind the EU’s reopening of international travel, including the critical transatlantic market.”

It adds: “The UK already has one of the most risk-averse and robust border regimes in the world. The incredible progress we are making with our vaccination programme enables us to ease these restrictions, just as it is in every other part of the economy. With nearly two thirds of the adult population already fully vaccinated, this would provide a critical lifeline to the aviation industry and would be consistent with the UK’s G7 commitment that recognised that reopening travel will require a set of common standards including mutual recognition of digital applications, testing requirements and the recognition of vaccination status.”

Airlines UK also calls on the government to make border requirements for those returning from green and amber destinations “more proportionate and affordable”.

“We support a strong red list with the measures that are in place, as an important element within the risk-based system,” the letter says. “However, the current border requirements for green and amber list countries are disproportionate to the risks posed, with travel to low-risk countries far more restricted than last summer when no vaccines existed.

“Travel to ‘green’ countries must – and can – offer a genuine, affordable opportunity to travel. The unnecessary requirement for travellers to take expensive PCR tests should be scrapped.”

The group added that it is “critical” the government instigates, as promised, the green watchlist “to minimise disruption and to prevent further undermining fragile consumer confidence as recently occurred over Portugal”.

Airlines UK says the government should stop advising against travel to amber list destinations and “ensure testing and isolation requirements are more proportionate”.

It suggests allowing the use of cheaper, rapid tests, and says it “makes no sense for travellers to take a day eight test if under ‘test to release’ you can leave quarantine safely after a test on day five”.

“A risk-based system is about mitigating risk through additional measures, and so there is no reason to advise against travel subject to those measures,” the letter said.

Airlines UK is also calling for a “genuine effort” from the government to drive down the cost of PCR testing – something Grant Shapps has previously committed to. It suggests removing VAT and reducing the cost of NHS PCR tests “to better stimulate the market”.

The letter said: “The lack of progress in this regard since the reopening of international travel on May 17 is both bewildering and disappointing.

Airlines UK also calls on the government to use “transparent criteria” and argues “data has shown clearly that the green list can be expanded safely, including to many European countries, the US and the Caribbean, as well as to island territories separate from their mainland country and as per the ‘islands policy’ from last year.”

It says: “The [June 28] checkpoint represents an opportunity to make more transparent these criteria which will be essential to determining the likelihood of whether a meaningful summer season is possible for the air travel sector. Again, failure to do so risks further undermining public confidence and holding back the recovery of our sector.”

And Airlines UK said the traffic light system should be applied “proportionately”, saying its current guise “does not reflect the risk of travel nor facilitate safe travel as it should”.

It says: “The roadmap for the wider economy does not take a zero-risk approach to unlocking, and the same approach should be taken for travel and in the measures that apply at each tier of the traffic light system – whilst maintaining a robust red list.”

The letter concludes: “If a meaningful reopening is not possible this summer given current government policy and application of the Global Travel Taskforce recommendations, then targeted economic support including 100% furlough extension will be essential to ensure UK airlines are able to reach the point when a restart is possible, in order to protect many tens of thousands of jobs.”

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