31 MAY 2021


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Article from BTNews 31 MAY 2021

COMMENT: A letter to the Prime Minister

Some of the CEOs from the UK’s leading aviation, travel and tourism businesses have united to express their concern and frustration at recent comments from Ministers that people should “stay in this country.”

In a letter to Boris Johnson they call on him to clarify the UK Government’s position on restarting international travel and add many more countries to the Green List.  No one can deny that these leaders are a highly responsible group who will always put safety first but they warn that the UK is already falling behind the rest of the world and risks throwing away its ‘vaccine dividend’.

Here is the letter in full.

Dear Prime Minister,

“Let Britain Fly Again”

As leaders of the UK’s aviation, travel and tourism sectors, we are writing to you to seek urgent clarity on the position of the UK Government regarding the restart to international travel this summer.

May 17th saw the welcome but extremely limited restart of non-essential international travel, which was intended to deliver a sustainable and robust return of air travel with government policy clear that ‘the resumption of international travel is vital for the economy and the general public, and for allowing families and friends to reconnect and reunite’.

We fully understand concerns about the B.1.617 Indian variant, and potential others. It is clear why India was placed on the red list and we continue to support its use for the highest risk countries. However, formal comments made by Ministers during the last week have moved the goalposts, undermining the very purpose of the risk-based traffic light system.

We were dismayed to hear Ministers say that travel is ‘dangerous’, that people should ‘stay in this country’ and not travel to amber countries – despite this being legal – given that the framework includes such strong safety mitigations. The Government now appears not to want a meaningful restart to international travel this summer, and it is impossible for any business or consumers to plan under this scenario, such that we are genuinely fearful that some UK businesses may fail.

Failures can be avoided. The science shows clearly the green list can be expanded safely now, including to many European countries, the US and the Caribbean. Many currently amber countries have significant levels of vaccinations, rapidly decreasing case numbers and, according to test and trace data, often considerably less than 1% of arrivals testing positive with no identified variants of concern entering the country. Under an evidence-based system based on risk, these should be green.

The UK has never been in a better position to manage the risk from Covid-19. Vaccines prevent people getting ill 95% of the time, protect against all known variants of Covid-19 and reduce transmission by at least 50%. Both the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines are highly effective against the B.1.617 Indian variant according to new PHE data. Along with the vaccination programme, our testing system allows us to assess inbound risk from medium and higher risk countries. With this safety net, we urge you to stick to the established framework, end confusion for travellers and allow our businesses to plan.

Whilst we stay grounded, the rest of Europe is now opening up, introducing waivers for vaccinated persons and easing the criteria to lift restrictions for third countries. Spain announced last Friday that anyone who is fully vaccinated can enter without restriction. The UK is falling behind the rest of the world, with long-term consequences for our connectivity and prospects of a Global Britain. To ensure the UK benefits from a vaccine dividend, Government must recognise the protection its successful vaccination programme now provides and the large numbers of countries moving to a low-risk position.  

Airlines can deliver a meaningful restart safely but a second lost summer for the sector, due to a limited expansion of the green list compared to our neighbours, would cause lasting damage to the UK’s aviation, travel and tourism industries. In that case there would be an urgent need for a dedicated aviation economic support package to safeguard many thousands of jobs otherwise under threat and protect the essential infrastructure that will be critical to the UK’s recovery and future prosperity.

We request an urgent opportunity to meet with you to discuss this situation.

Yours sincerely,

Tim Alderslade, Chief Executive, Airlines UK
Johan Lundgren, Chief Executive Officer, easyJet
Sean Doyle, Chief Executive, British Airways
Steve Heapy, Chief Executive Officer, Jet2.com Ltd / Jet2holidays Ltd
Andrew Flintham, Chief Executive Officer, TUI UK&I
Charlie Cornish, Group Chief Executive, Manchester Airports Group
Michael O’Leary, Chief Executive Officer, Ryanair Group
Jonathan Hinkles, Chief Executive, Loganair
Shai Weiss, Chief Executive Officer, Virgin Atlantic Ltd
Mark Tanzer, Chief Executive, ABTA
Daniele Broccoli, Managing Director, Typically Italian / Typically Spain
Jamie Gardiner, Managing Director, Diverse World

Tim Alderslade, Chief Executive Officer, Airlines UK, summed up: “The UK will rapidly fall behind the rest of Europe unless it looks again at its overly cautious approach to international travel. There is no reason why our green list can’t be expanded to include the US and the most popular European hotspots, or for the UK not to follow the EU’s lead in exempting vaccinated travellers from restrictions.

“It is time to allow UK citizens to take advantage of the fantastic success of the vaccine rollout but at the moment our competitors are reacting faster to the improving health situation and will reap the rewards this summer.”

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OUR READERS' FINEST WORDS (All times and dates are GMT)

All comments are filtered to exclude any excesses but the Editor does not have to agree with what is being said. 100 words maximum

Barry Graham, USA

This is a great letter. Given the high level of vaccination in the UK there is no reason for the UK to remain so cautious. In the USA many of us are almost back to normal as it should be there and in the UK. The main reason things are so bad in India is that they do not have the ability to vaccinate to the extent necessary, not because of the existance of a variant. I am fully vaccinated and I'm looking forward to being able to visit the UK soon without having to take a pointless COVID test, without needing to quarantine, and without needing to wear a mask on the plane.