Industry bosses are urging the British Government to begin planning flights between “low risk” countries in order to rebuild the economy.
Heathrow Airport chief executive John Holland-Kaye said he believes the UK should adopt a risk-based approach in order to determine where flights can travel to and from, as he warned the UK economy will suffer if quarantine measures continue for longer.
He said it is more than “just about going on holiday”, as 40% of the UK’s exports go on passenger planes from Heathrow.
“Aviation is the lifeblood of the UK economy, so many manufacturers rely on the supply chain coming by air, their exports go by air,” he told Sky News.
Mr Holland-Kaye described how Heathrow Airport will be using thermal imagining as a screening process to detect Covid-19 among passengers.
The temperature checks are set to begin next week, starting at Terminal 2.
“We are working with Public Health England to see if that could be part of the solution to health screening at airports,” Mr Holland-Kaye said.
With passenger numbers plunging 97%, from an average of 250,000 a day to between 5,000 and 6,000, Mr Holland-Kaye warned: “This is a very minimal level of traffic and I think that as long as the quarantine is in place, that will continue at those low levels.
“The quarantine cannot be in place for more than a relatively short amount of time if we are going to get the economy moving again.
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“This is where we are urging the Government to have a common international standard, working with other countries so that traffic can start to flow in a normal way between low-risk countries.”
Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), backed his position.
Asked about the Government’s plan to have international travellers self-isolate for 14 days when they arrive in the UK, Dame Carolyn told Sky News: “We would like to see an international standard. At the moment you’ve got different countries doing different things and that is very bad for global trade.
“We do ask the Government to think very carefully about how this is introduced so that it doesn’t put the brakes on our economy in this fragile recovery.”
Mr Holland-Kaye suggested there should be a “free flow” of passengers between the UK and countries that have very low risks of transmission.
He said: “I think that if the UK Government, with one of the biggest aviation sectors in the world, were to get together with the European Union and the United States, between them they have the heft and the global, diplomatic and economic power to set that international standard.
“I think the approach to take is the risk-based approach as we do with security, where if two countries are very low-risk free of transmission, there should be a free flow of passengers between those countries.”
On antibody testing and the potential for a so-called immunity passport, Mr Holland-Kaye welcomed the idea but said there needs to be consistency between countries for it to work.
He said: “It’s no good the UK having a health passport if another country has an entirely different system.
“We need to have that commonality between markets so that we know your health passport is accepted in the country you’re going to.”
He said Heathrow “desperately” needs a third runway in order to expand the UK’s ability to access global markets.
He called for more flights to markets in India and China as well as increased services to UK regions so “businesses can plan in confidence” and access global markets from Heathrow.
“We will desperately need that third runway within the next 10 to 15 years, which is about the length of time to build it,” he said.
“We’ve got more coming to use Heathrow with the few flights that they have and that just underpins how vital Heathrow is to the UK economy.”