UK aviation needs government support for new lockdown pain - airport boss

·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Manchester
FILE PHOTO: Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Manchester

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's airports and airlines need urgent support to survive the "very bleak future" posed by a new lockdown in England, warned the boss of one of the country's biggest airport groups.

Very low levels of travel in recent months have put airlines and airports under renewed financial strain after they were effectively shut during Britain's first lockdown, and they now face another month without income during its second.

"An urgent package of support must materialise," said Manchester Airport Group's (MAG) chief executive Charlie Cornish in a statement on Monday.

He said the new lockdown for England, due to start on Thursday and which bans international leisure travel, will make parts of the aviation sector unsustainable.

Before the pandemic, Britain had a thriving aviation sector. Air transport and related supply chain activity plus tourist arrivals supported 1.6 million jobs and accounted for 4.5% of UK GDP according to an IATA study.

But more than 20,000 jobs have now been lost at UK airlines like British Airways <ICAG.L> and easyJet <EZJ.L>, and Heathrow, once the busiest airport in Europe, has lost its crown to Paris.

Industry executives blame the UK government's 14-day quarantine rules, and the comparatively slow adoption of allowing testing to replace the need for isolation, for exacerbating the pain.

Industry bodies Airlines UK and the Airport Operators Association called on the government to bring in business rates relief for airports, waive the air passenger duty tax, and quickly bring in a testing regime to save jobs.

On top of job support schemes, Britain has provided extra help to train and bus operators and the hospitality sector during the crisis, but aviation has been ignored say bosses, despite promises made by the finance minister in March.

"Government has neglected UK aviation and the role it plays in our economy from day one of this pandemic," said Cornish, whose MAG owns Manchester, London Stansted and East Midlands airports.

France and Germany have both provided state-backed rescue packages to help Air France-KLM <AIRF.PA> and Lufthansa <LHAG.DE> survive the crisis.

(Reporting by Sarah Young; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)