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Urgently Needed - A Flight Plan for Recovery

Following the latest announcements from the government over quarantine requirements, Heathrow Airport reported that passenger volumes dropped 89% in January as the national lockdown, travel bans, blanket quarantine and compulsory testing deterred people from travelling. Image - Heathrow Airport

This undoubtedly has been the government's intention given the desire to attempt to 'control' COVID-19 but the additional inconvenience and cost of quarantine hotels, day2/day 8 testing requirements on top of other measures mean that the UK’s borders are effectively closed. Nevertheless, the airport continues to work with the Government to try to ensure the ever-more complex scheme is workable.

Fewer long-haul passenger flights meant that cargo volume was also down by 21% in January – a key indicator of the damage that travel restrictions are having on the UK’s exports and supply chain.

UK exporters, service industry, inbound tourism and education that rely on aviation need to see a “flight plan” to reopen Britain’s borders safely as part of the Prime Minister’s roadmap to recovery on 22nd February. The government also needs to provide targeted support to ensure the aviation sector can survive the current crisis, including full business rates relief and an extension to the furlough scheme.

There are those who try to accuse the aviation industry of wanting special treatment but this is nonsense. Aviation brings prosperity and inward investment among numerous other benefits and, as has been amply shown over the past eleven months, crucially important supplies needed in a medical emergency. And it also costs much more than most other industries to run.

All-cargo flights have played a crucial role in delivering vital medical supplies since the pandemic began on 2019

Kevan James

Cargo flights alone cannot support aviation alone. There was a time, decades ago, when one school of thought suggested that cargo flights and air cargo carriers were the future. Indeed, the Boeing 747, recently almost completely retired from passenger use, was originally conceived as a cargo-carrying aircraft. There are still all-cargo airlines, and the 747 can be found (or used to be...or will be again, hopefully) in use on their routes. But the days of big freight airlines are now history and the reason is easy to understand.

Most aircraft, large and small but especially the wide-body, long haul types, have more under-cabin space than is needed for passenger baggage. This space has been used to carry cargo - and lots of it. But even though some airlines have temporarily converted aircraft to carry cargo on the main deck, for this to be permanent requires the floors to be modified to handle the increased weight of mass cargo use. This is money that currently, airlines can ill-afford.

Airports worldwide are also geared to handle a combination of passengers and cargo, even though many, including Heathrow, have substantial freight facilities, the major part of their operations are for passengers. Whether they are being used or not, these facilities still need to be maintained - and cleaned.

A huge amount of cargo is carried in the under-floor holds beneath passenger cabins

Heathrow Airport

Heathrow is pleased to note that the UK's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has acknowledged the need to adjust Heathrow's regulatory settlement to ensure the airport continues to deliver for consumers. The previous settlement could not have accounted for a crisis of this scale. An appropriate adjustment now would support the regulatory model, increase long-term investment in the UK and lower long-term prices for consumers. The CAA must act in March after its consultation.

Heathrow CEO, John Holland-Kaye, said: “We support the Government in measures required to protect public health. But these additional requirements are essentially a border closure. That will inevitably delay the country’s recovery and hurt the UK’s supply chains. We need to see the flight plan for the safe restart of international travel as part of the Prime Minister’s roadmap on February 22. We also need to preserve our vital aviation infrastructure to support economic recovery when it comes and make Global Britain a reality. That means the Chancellor must use next month’s budget to deliver the minimum help that aviation needs with 100% business rates relief and an extension of the furlough scheme.”

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