Coronavirus: UK airports ‘will shut down within weeks’ without government intervention

Coronavirus is the ‘greatest threat the UK’s travel sector has ever faced,’ says airport chief

Helen Coffey
Tuesday 17 March 2020 13:04
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UK airports “will shut down within weeks” unless the government steps in to help, according to a leading trade association.

The Airport Operators Association (AOA), the body that represents UK airports, is urging the government to support the aviation industry as the coronavirus pandemic increasingly shuts down international travel.

“Governments across the world are supporting their national aviation industries, as many parts of the global travel industry have come to a halt,” said AOA chief executive Karen Dee.

“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.”

She added: “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.”

According to Ms Dee, UK airports are already taking drastic action to cut costs and are scaling back investments, but due to airports having fixed operating costs, the Government needs to provide “additional support”.

The AOA is calling on the Government to implement a package of measures to reduce the impact on airports.

These include: being prepared to provide or organise emergency financing as a last resort; requiring banks to temporarily not enforce financial performance-based banking covenants; suspending business rates and other government and local government rates and taxes on airports; deferring payments of all VAT, corporation tax and other taxes for the duration of global flight restrictions; sharing the employment cost of airport staff laid off throughout the crisis; suspending regulatory costs on airports where possible; indefinitely postponing major increases to those regulatory costs; and providing relief from airport policing costs.

Ms Dee also said that, once the pandemic is in retreat, the government should suspend Air Passenger Duty for six months to help kickstart the aviation industry.

“For the sake of the UK economy it is essential for the UK Government to catch-up to its peers across the continent and provide support to the sector and the wider economy through financing, guarantees, grants and tax relief,” she said.

Manchester Airports Group CEO Charlie Cornish has said that Covid-19 is the “greatest threat the UK’s travel sector has ever faced”.

The group, which owns Manchester, Stansted and East Midlands airports, is taking a number of steps amid the severe of culling of flights, including temporary lay-offs, pay cuts and reduced working hours.

“I am in no doubt that this outbreak is the greatest threat the UK’s travel sector has ever faced,” Mr Cornish told Travel Mole.

“Government needs to take decisive action now to make clear its total and unwavering support for airports, airlines and other travel companies. The UK depends on air travel to supports its economy.

“The Government must stand behind the aviation industry to make sure it is still there and ready to help the economy recover once this is all over.”

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