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Imminent restart of flights to US ‘a fantasy’ warns Eurocontrol chief

Traffic to the US from the UK and EU is not likely to resume before late September, the head of European air traffic management body Eurocontrol has warned.

Eamonn Brennan, Eurocontrol director general, labelled hopes of an imminent restart of transatlantic traffic “a bit of a fantasy” and criticised the EU approach to negotiating a resumption of flights to the US.

He said: “We don’t see any evidence that the US and EU, or indeed the UK, are engaging on a restart. It is going to be toward the back end of September before the North Atlantic starts up.”

There was excitement late last week when US president Joe Biden pledged at a meeting with German chancellor Angela Merkel that information on the timing of lifting US international travel bans could come “within the next several days”.

But speaking on a webinar hosted by the CAPA Centre for Aviation, Brennan described hopes of an imminent restart of traffic to the US as “a bit of a fantasy at the moment” and insisted: “The end of September is my best guess.”

He said: “There is pressure from carriers like British Airways. But what we’re hearing from both [the US and EU] negotiating teams is that there is really no rush from either side.”

Brennan added: “It probably wasn’t the smartest move in the world for the EU to allow unfettered access to its markets to the US before negotiations began. They gave away their cards.”

He described the outlook for long haul travel more generally as “a disaster”, saying: “For Asia, we’re looking at December at best [for a restart of flights] and then only to some hub points.

“Long haul is not a runner until everybody gets towards 50%-60% of the population vaccinated.”

Biden and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson set up a UK-US taskforce on restarting transatlantic traffic ahead of the G7 Summit in Cornwall in June. The taskforce of officials from the two governments meets weekly.

However, UK transport secretary Grant Shapps told MPs: “There are a lot of technical issues, not least the fact that US executive order 212F remains to be lifted. The US also has 50 different ways of recognising vaccination.”

The executive order, in force since March 2020, prohibits UK and Schengen area citizens from entering the US.

Separately, the EU lifted a ban on US travellers entering the bloc in mid-June when it added the US to a ‘white list’ of countries approved for travel without any reciprocal agreement from the White House.

Delta Air Lines chief executive Ed Bastian echoed Brennan’s more cautious outlook last week, suggesting traffic from the UK and Europe would not restart until early autumn.

Bastian said: “The White House is not willing to open up the US marketplace to European or UK travellers. The White House is still concerned with the overall vaccination rate in the country.”

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