The aviation industry faces a battle for survival if government continues using shambolic traffic light system
The government's overly cautious, chaotic and confusing approach to international travel will significantly hit the UK economy, hold back our national recovery and place further jobs at risk.
The aviation industry was one of the first to face the negative impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic 15 months ago. It was hoped that May 17th would be the start of the much-needed recovery of a sector that saw passenger numbers fall to record lows, terminals closed and thousands of job losses.
Yet less than a month on, the promised return of international travel risks becoming yet another false dawn that may be the final toll for many businesses who remain very much in the danger zone, with business failure sadly a very real possibility.
This is as a result of the overly cautious, chaotic and confusing approach taken by the government that will significantly hit the UK economy, hold back our national recovery and place further jobs at risk, with around half all aviation employees currently on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
The international travel traffic light system joins the myriad of false dawns for our aviation, travel and tourism industries
Our approach to international travel simply defies belief, as Europe reopens, we have gone from a restart based on data and science to the near total closure of our airports without proper explanation or justification. The international travel traffic light system joins the myriad of false dawns for our aviation, travel and tourism industries.
Understandably at this time of year, attention turns to the much-needed summer holiday, but this is about much more than summer holidays. Aviation is a major economic enabler and the value of strong connectivity throughout the UK must not be forgotten or underestimated.
Our failure to open a travel corridor with the USA alone is costing us £32 million a day. This is about global Britain. This is about international trade. This is about people’s jobs.
Our current approach also risks squandering our world leading vaccination programme, with more than 70 million doses delivered. Far from a ‘vaccine dividend’, we run the very real risk of getting no advantage and watching our neighbours in France, Spain and Germany reap the benefit of their vaccination programmes despite being behind the UK.
The government’s current approach is chaotic, confusing and damaging. The promised green watch list was dismissed before it was even used. International travellers were presented with the chaos of moving Portugal to amber just days after the Champions League Final saw thousands safely travel to Porto. Our aviation, travel and tourism industries now face their busiest season with a green list that was responsible for just 1.7% of passenger numbers in 2019.
The introduction of a traffic light system based on clear and transparent data was widely welcomed and supported as system that could reopen international travel and provide clarity and certainty. Less than a month in, the traffic light system is more shambles than success and leaves many in the dark on how and why decisions are taken.
With the next review point on the 28th June, the government have the opportunity to deliver on the promises laid out in the Global Travel Taskforce and to reopen international travel, bringing the UK in line with the more practical and safe approaches taken by our European neighbours.
We should be under no illusions, if they fail to do this than our aviation, travel and tourism industries face a battle for survival.
If the government are content to keep international travel effectively shut down then they must be honest about that fact, bring forward significant financial support to protect aviation, travel and tourism businesses, communities and their employees and set out clearly the rationale for why we are taking such a different approach from our European neighbours.
This package of support must be delivered immediately and form part of a full and considered roadmap for international travel, not only to get them through the next few months but to provide definitive clarity on how and when they can reopen.
Support must include an extension of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme through to the end of winter 2021-2022. An extension to the repayment deadline for the Covid Corporate Financing Facility and Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme. Extend full business rates relief for travel companies and extend full business rates relief to UK airports for at least six months. Create a regime of new sector specific grants for businesses in the aviation, travel, and tourism industries.
We should be under no illusions, if the government continue with their existing approach which is leaving industry in the dark and fail to provide full financial support our aviation, travel and tourism industries will be less than a shadow of their former selves and a shadow of what is needed to rebuild our economy and to make Global Britain a reality.
As a nation, we simply cannot afford to continue along this path. The consequences of inaction are simply unthinkable, it is time to support our aviation, travel and tourism industries, it is time to get global Britain flying again.
Henry Smith is the Conservative MP for Crawley.
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