Airport bosses call for support to help grounded travel sector fly again

Northern airport bosses have joined forces to appeal to the Government to back their struggling sector in its Budget next week, while developing a realistic system that would enable travel to restart in May.

Leaders of gateways in all parts of the North have written to Boris Johnson, urging him to acknowledge the importance of aviation and travel to his levelling-up and global Britain ambitions, by providing the direct financial support needed to protect the industry until it is able to fully re-open.

The letter has been signed by:

  • Leeds Bradford Airport
  • Doncaster Sheffield Airport
  • Carlisle Lake District Airport
  • Liverpool John Lennon Airport
  • Manchester Airport
  • Newcastle International Airport

Collectively, the airports handled nearly 50m passengers in 2019, supported more than 200,000 jobs and generated around £14bn for the economy of the North.

With passenger levels having plummeted to just 5% of usual volumes and with tens of thousands of travel sector jobs already lost across the North, they say Government needs to set out how it will offer support to the sector while travel remains prohibited.

Although welcoming the review of international travel measures in the Prime Minister’s recovery plan this week, the bosses are warning it means it will be at least several months before airports start seeing any meaningful passenger demand, with international travel the only sector subject to further review as part of the plan.

Until the Government’s Global Travel Taskforce publishes its review on 12 April, there remains uncertainty over whether the 17 May restart date is possible, or the conditions under which flying can resume in earnest.

The airports’ leaders have written to the Prime Minister collectively, saying it is more important than ever that the Government provides dedicated additional support measures that account for the “unique” way airport businesses have been impacted by the pandemic and their critical role in recovery.

Options they say the Government could consider include:

  • Relief from fixed costs paid to Government. Whilst significant support has been given to other ‘closed’ sectors of the economy, airports which have now had their trade further restricted are yet to receive support in light of new measures.
  • A sector-specific extension of the furlough scheme to help the hundreds of thousands of jobs supported by the industry. Aviation will return, but tens of thousands of jobs across the UK could disappear unless furlough for this industry is extended post April.
  • Measures to boost the sector by cutting the cost of travel and spurring on Northern aviation. This could include reducing taxes levied on passengers to help stimulate demand as restrictions are eased.

The airports group stresses that despite forming a vital part of the UK’s national infrastructure, airports do not typically receive funding from Government, relying instead on commercial income to support their operations.

It adds: “Current travel restrictions mean airports effectively have no income, and are unable to diversify in the way other businesses are.

“At the same time, airports have extremely high fixed costs, including business rates, policing and air traffic control, which means they are making tens of millions of pounds in losses each month.”