UK airport chiefs have slammed the government’s lack of support for the industry and warned it “can’t take a strong aviation sector for granted”.
Heathrow airport chief executive John Holland-Kaye told the Airport Operators Association (AOA) conference: “We know how little support we’ve received from government and how little understanding there is from government of the importance of the sector.”
He said: “We hear no airports have gone bust, but that ignores the massive stress on our balance sheets.
“It’s hugely frustrating. We’re coming out of Covid with a hugely weaker sector. We can’t take a strong aviation sector for granted.”
Gatwick chief executive Stewart Wingate agreed, saying: “It’s important we hold the government to account.
“It’s critical the sector recovers. We went into the pandemic with an aviation sector that was the envy of the world and we want to recapture that.”
Wingate noted: “Typically on a summer’s day, Gatwick expects 180,000 passengers. There were days in 2020 when we had 36.
“We hoped 2021 would be better. In the first six months we had 569,000 passengers. I would normally have that many in three days in August.”
He argued: “We’re thankful for furlough, but other than that and partial relief on rates we’ve had little support.”
Conservative MP and former transport minister Paul Maynard defended the government’s Covid response, telling the conference: “All trade associations were setting out the case for why they were uniquely vulnerable and there was limited time for ministers and civil servants to design credible [support] schemes.”
However, Maynard also criticised the government, saying: “Now we’re going through a strategic pause in aviation’s development it is a chance for the government to answer big strategic questions.
“But there seems no attempt to link the government’s economic agenda to its aviation and transport agenda.”
He added: “I always thought aviation needed the least government intervention, but I suspect that is changing.
“The Department for Transport broadly knows the answers to most questions, but the challenge is its bandwidth. It lacks the bandwidth and scope to answer some of these questions.”
Wingate emphasised “three key asks” of government, saying it should: “Remove all restrictions for vaccinated passengers, reinstate slot utilisation rules for summer 2022 and support green technologies.”
Holland-Kaye told the conference: “Now we’ve left the EU and been through Covid we need a plan for the UK [based on] where global growth is going to be – the US, Asia – and how we ensure connectivity to these places, to ensure it’s easy to trade and all regions of the UK benefit.
“We need a plan for the road to net zero and how we protect the benefits of aviation in a world without carbon.”