As coronavirus sweeps the globe in the largest pandemic of a generation, travel experts warn that airports could soon take a hit. The air industry is already struggling amid the virus, with many airlines being forced to reduce itineraries and cancel flights all together.
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Now, The Airport Operators Association has warned “we are clear that airports will shut down in weeks unless urgent action is taken to support the industry”.
It has called on the government to suspend business rates and other taxes on airports.
With a number of airlines grounding flights, including popular budget airlines Ryanair and easyJet, it is likely the whole air sector will be hit by the virus.
There is a growing fear amongst airline bosses, with a leaked video from British Airways boss Alex Cruz to staff describing the coronavirus pandemic as worse than 9/11.
Commenting on the impact of Coronavirus on the aviation sector, a Heathrow spokesperson said: “The impact of Coronavirus is a significant challenge for the global aviation industry including Heathrow and our colleagues, airlines, suppliers and fellow airports.
“We are taking immediate steps to safeguard the financial resilience of our business including the protection of jobs, whilst providing relief to our airline partners and wider industry colleagues.
“This is a quickly evolving situation and we stand ready to take any further and necessary measures to support our colleagues and industry partners as this situation develops.”
The letter was sent to the British government and pointed out the hit UK airports are taking.In it CEOs of Gatwick, Manchester and Heathrow Airports, as well as the CEO of AOA, pointed out “our traffic has fallen dramatically and is going down day by day.”
Airports are asking the government to “make the need’s of Britain’s airports a top Government priority.”
Airports are asking for emergency financing, the suspension of business rates, and help with the employment cost of staff who are laid off as a fatality of the situation, amongst other things.
Commenting on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on UK airports, Chief Executive of the Airport Operators Association Karen Dee said: “Governments across the world are supporting their national aviation industries, as many parts of the global travel industry have come to a halt. As some airlines call on the UK Government to act similarly, we are clear that airports will shut down in weeks unless urgent action is taken to support the industry.
“The UK’s airports are critical national infrastructure, fulfilling a vital public service, and are on the frontline of the COVID-19 outbreak. It is essential that airport businesses remain operating and are able to weather this storm, so that they can provide the connectivity which drives growth, employment and prosperity after the crisis has abated.
“With travel bans proliferating and passengers being unwilling to fly, traffic through airports has plummeted. UK airports are taking immediate and drastic action to cut costs and are scaling back investments in light of the situation. Due to the fixed costs of operating airports, the Government will need to provide additional support.”
A spokesperson at London Luton Airport added: “This is an unprecedented situation for the country and our industry. We are working tirelessly with staff and all of our partner businesses to take measures to protect the airport’s future and in turn the regional economy we support. We also need the Government to play its part in ensuring the industry can adapt and recover as quickly as possible.”
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Rory Boland, Editor of Which? Travel, added his support for the air industry. He said: “Millions of people rely on airlines, travel firms and tour operators and with many companies hit hard by the coronavirus crisis, it is vital that the government considers all options to support the industry and help it through this challenging period.
“If taxpayers’ money is to be used to sustain the travel industry, it is even more important that businesses do the right thing by their customers – particularly by supporting more vulnerable consumers – by demonstrating compassion and flexibility during the difficult weeks ahead.”
At the time of writing the government continues to allow Britons to fly in and out of the country.
This is despite stringent moves made by other countries, including the US, which have placed travel bans on certain areas.
The US is currently banning all travel to Europe, including the UK, after the continent was named the epicentre of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the European Union announced it would be closing its borders for non-EU residents.
The ban will be in place for 30 days, with the potential for extension should the situation worsen.
Despite this, the UK government believes these moves will do little to stop the spread of the already thriving virus.
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Chancellor Rishi Sunak said there was no scientific evidence suggesting grounding flights to and from the UK would help prevent the spread of the potentially deadly flu-like virus. Responding to Donald Trump’s decision to ban flights to the US from most of mainland Europe, Mr Sunak said: “We haven’t believed that that’s the right thing to do, the evidence here doesn’t support that.
“What we are trying to do is contain the virus while recognising that it is now likely that it will spread more significantly.”
Boris Johnson’s official spokesman has said British scientists are not recommending the Government introduce a flight ban.
Though they acknowledge other countries are taking this stance, the UK for now will continue to allow travel.
He said: “The advice we have been given is that it is not a step they are recommending we take.”
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office issued major travel advisories for 35 countries yesterday, urging Britons to reconsider all but “essential” travel.
Amongst the impacted regions were Italy, France, Spain, and the US.
At the time of writing there are 184,134 cases of coronavirus worldwide, with 1,543 confirmed cases in the UK.
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