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Manchester Airports Group issues warning over Omicron impact on travel recovery

The Omicron variant and restrictions threaten to delay international travel recovery, Manchester Airport Group warned today.

The airports group called on the government to carry out an urgent review of its new travel restrictions.

Passenger volumes for the six months to September rose by 57% year-on-year from 4.2 million to 6.6 million.

But this equated to only 18% of pre-pandemic levels as the airports group’s performance “continued to reflect the unprecedented period the aviation industry has faced this year following the impact of Covid-19”.

The company’s October trading reflected a 51% improvement compared to pre-pandemic activity, rising to 58% in November.

“This provides a positive outlook for trading into the second half of the year and the build up to summer 2022,” MAG said.

But the group warned: “The recent discovery of the Omicron variant in late November has the potential to delay the recovery in international travel, given the risk of governments maintaining more stringent travel restrictions in response to scientific advice about the level of threat associated with the new variant.

“Governments have reintroduced a number of travel restrictions as a precautionary measure, pending further evaluation of new variant.

“At the current time, it is not possible to assess the impact of these restrictions or additional restrictions that might be imposed in due course.”

Half year revenue increased by 55.3% to £159 million, which together with cost savings resulted in adjusted earnings [ebitda] of £25.6 million, an increase of £98.8 million year-on-year.

The group reported a halving of pre-tax losses from £208.3 million to £105.3 million.

This came as overall passenger numbers across the group’s Manchester, Stransted and East Midlands airports saw a 57% recovery over the same period in 2020 to 6.6 million.

MAG described its response to the pandemic as being “measured, strong and focussed on long-term recovery”.

The company added: “All non-essential expenditure was frozen and a major streamlining of the workforce across its entirety was undertaken including management, back office functions and operational staff to reflect the short term reduction in operating activity.”

Decisive steps were also taken to significantly reduce operating costs through the alignment of infrastructure and resources to meet the revised traffic demand.

MAG chief executive Charlie Cornish said: “The first half of this year tells a story of how travel restrictions held back the recovery of UK aviation, especially when compared to the rest of Europe.

“As restrictions eased, passenger numbers grew steadily at all three of our airports.

“The reintroduction of costly and inconvenient travel testing requirements has created further uncertainty and delayed our recovery.

“The government has talked openly about the damage these restrictions cause to the travel sector, but neither they nor the Opposition have recognised the critical need to support our industry in return.

“As a business, we will always do our part to protect public health, but we also need these temporary measures to be removed when they are no longer worthwhile.

“These restrictions may have slowed the arrival of Omicron but it is now transmitting in the community, and the Government needs urgently to review whether the rapidly reducing benefit of testing justifies the damage it is causing to consumer confidence.

“MAG, and the wider UK travel industry, can be confident of a strong revival when travel restrictions are lifted.

“All we are asking for is to be able to plan for our recovery, and to be given the same chance that every other sector was given through the domestic roadmap earlier this year.”

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