Plotting a path to restriction-free travel is key to the full revival of the ailing aviation sector.
That was the message delivered today by MAG, as the largest airport group in the UK, as it revealed figures showing passenger numbers were down 90 per cent across the first 12 months of the coronavirus pandemic.
Such a roadmap should be based on greater cooperation between the UK government and its overseas counterparts, to share information about the emergence of new Covid-19 variants of concern and eliminate the need for travellers to take expensive PCR tests on their return.
Currently, the UK government proposes that all passengers – even those returning from the lowest risk ‘green’ destinations – will have to take a PCR test, so it can gather data that will help with genomic sequencing.
MAG said this could be avoided if governments worked together on sequencing and sharing data on variants.
The testing requirement is part of the Global Travel Taskforce’s ‘traffic light’ framework, announced last week, which categorises countries as red, amber or green based on the risk associated with visiting them.
Subject to final confirmation, it is set to come into play on May 17th, the earliest date non-essential travel can resume.
MAG – the owner of Manchester, London Stansted and East Midlands airports – said that the framework should be improved urgently to include a fourth, restriction-free category capitalising on the success of the vaccination programme.
Doing so would remove significant personal cost to passengers and inject much-needed confidence into the UK aviation sector ahead of what will be a critical summer season.
The dramatic downturn aviation has experienced was laid bare in MAG’s annual passenger figures, which showed that compared to March 2020, MAG served 93 per cent fewer passengers in March 2021, and that its rolling 12-month passenger total is down 89 per cent.
In March 2019, MAG served more than four million passengers, compared to March 2021 when it served 140,000 – a 97 per cent decrease.
Manchester Airport handled just 95,798 passengers in March 2021, 89.8% down on the 942,900 it handled 12 months earlier.
At Stansted, the figure was 44,259 this March, compared with over 800,000 a year earlier – a 95 per cent drop.
At East Midlands Airport, the airport served just 71 passengers for the whole of March this year, against 106,529 in 2020.
Charlie Cornish, chief executive, MAG said: “The UK government is among the first to have set out proposals for a system that enables international travel to resume and should be applauded for taking the lead.
“After more than a year of almost total shutdown – and with so many jobs and so much economic value at stake – it’s really important we get people moving again once it is safe to do so.
“We now need Government to confirm the May 17th start date as soon as possible, along with the list of countries that fall into each ‘traffic light’ category.”