Mr Walsh – who is now director general of the International Air Transport Association (Iata) – told MPs on the Transport Select Committee: “The recovery is being hampered by the bureaucracy associated with UK travel.
“The UK has definitely lagged the recovery. The UK has lost ground to 38 of the other 40 Eurocontrol nations.”
At present the UK has some of the toughest coronavirus rules in Europe, with incoming fully vaccinated passengers required to take a test within two days of arrival.
“There’s no justification for the continued use of these tests based on the data,” Mr Walsh said.
At the same session, Karen Dee – chief executive of the Airport Operators’ Association – criticised the “traffic light” system that governed international travel through the summer.
“It was very difficult to understand the criteria the government was using,” she said.
“We have lost out much more strongly than some of our European competitors.”
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, said: “We had this ludicrously complicated traffic light system that was changing at a week’s notice.
“We saw France moving onto a random tier all of its own.”
Earlier this month, the health secretary, Sajid Javid, removed the remaining seven countries from the “red list” – but said it remains in place.
“The red list and quarantine system remain vital in protecting our borders and as we’ve said we will not hesitate to take action by adding countries to the red list if necessary,” he said.
Willie Walsh also criticised the complexity of the UK passenger locator form that every arrival to the UK must complete.
“I seriously doubt anyone’s looking at it,” he said.
Mr Walsh gave the example of a trip he made to the UK from Iata’s European HQ in Geneva, when he specified that he would be leaving after a brief visit.
“I was being contacted days after I had left the UK. Why ask the questions if you’re not going to use it?”
The Iata boss also added to calls for certification of vaccinations for under-16s in the UK.
“The requirement in many countries is for evidence [of vaccination] when you’re over 12 years of age.
“We’ve raised this issue. We’ve had no constructive response.
“It is a problem and will become a greater problem.”
Willie Walsh extended his criticism to Air Passenger Duty (APD), which he described as “a tax on doing business in the UK”.
“APD should be scrapped,” he said. “It’s just a revenue raising exercise by the Exchequer.
“All it does is make the aircraft operation less efficient because you have fewer people on it.”
In a bid to encourage domestic aviation, the chancellor announced that APD on domestic flights will be halved from £13 to £6.50 from April 2023.
A government spokesperson said: “We are committed to ensuring all passengers can have the safest journey possible to the UK.
“Our utmost priority is protecting the safety and health of the public, and we will not compromise on ensuring passengers comply with the health measures necessary to keep us all safe.
“Day 2 testing allows the UK Health Security Agency to monitor what variants, if any, are being brought into the UK.
“We are exploring ways to enable children aged 12-15 to demonstrate their vaccination status for the purpose of international travel.”
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