Govt’s travel taskforce welcomed by Bristol Airport as first step towards passenger testing

October 12, 2020

Bristol Airport, airlines and regional business leaders have welcomed the government’s decision to launch a global travel taskforce to investigate ways of introducing Covid-19 testing for travellers arriving at UK airports.

But there has also been criticism of delays by ministers in getting to this stage when other countries, such as Germany, have already introduced testing schemes, including those that allow people to test themselves before they travel. 

Instead, the UK has relied on travellers from most countries arriving here self-isolating for two weeks – a stance regarded as compounding the problems faced by an already-beleaguered aviation sector.

Bristol Airport CEO Dave Lees, pictured below, said the announcement was “a positive first step towards introducing a testing regime for arriving customers at UK airports”.

He added: “As an industry we need government to urgently accelerate a scientifically sound testing regime for customers arriving into the UK which would safeguard public health, help to reduce the quarantine period, remove uncertainty and allow businesses and passengers to make informed travel choices.

“Bristol Airport’s number one priority remains the health and safety of our passengers and our work colleagues.

“We will therefore continue to work tirelessly with our industry partners and government to identify and implement solutions which will enable the industry to fully restart and recover.”

CBI South West director Deborah Fraser said that effective airport testing had a vital role to play in jumpstarting international travel and trade, so the announcement would be welcomed by business across the region. 

“As global trade picks up, Britain must be at the forefront. A successful testing system will help air passengers travel confidently and conveniently from Bristol Airport and others and underscore the UK’s status as a hub for international connectivity,” she said.

“The UK economy is fuelled by international travel for access to tourists, trade and talent. Firms will be watching this taskforce and the government’s subsequent decisions on testing closely.”

Last month Mr Lees had called for urgent government action to avoid further damage to the aviation and airport sector, saying the failure to bring in Covid-19 testing for passengers arriving at airports meant the already-struggling industry was being ‘suffocated’.

That sentiment was echoed in a joint statement by the chief executives of easyJet, Bristol’s largest operator, Virgin Atlantic, Heathrow Airport and Manchester Airports Group.

Describing the setting up of the taskforce as a step in the right direction to restart the economy and protect thousands of jobs across the country, it added: “Travellers need a firm commitment that a comprehensive testing regime will be implemented in early November.

“A test on day five, which the government’s own conservative evidence said would be ‘highly effective’ and which they’re already doing in Germany, should be the starting point.

“Without a rapid move to testing, the UK will fall even further behind our competitors and the economic recovery will fail to get off the ground.”

British Airways and the Airport Operators Association also said they did not believe continuing with the current quarantine was the solution and called for the introduction of a reliable and affordable test before flying.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who will lead the taskforce with Health Secretary Matt Hancock, said: “The current measures at the border have saved lives. Our understanding of the science now means we can intensify efforts to develop options for a testing regime and help reinvigorate our world-leading travel sector.

“This new taskforce will not only help us move towards safer, smoother international travel as we continue to battle this virus but will also support global connectivity – helping facilitate more Covid-secure travel whilst protecting the population from imported cases.”

However, shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon slammed the government for being “incompetently slow to react”.

He added: “They’ve had months to set up a taskforce, months to look into airport testing and months to sort out the flaws of their quarantine proposals.”

He also joined industry calls for a bespoke financial support package for the sector.

Bristol is the UK’s ninth busiest and England’s third largest regional airport. Last year it handled around 9m passengers – a number originally expected to nudge the 10m mark this year.

This summer it said it did not expect passenger numbers to recover for at least three years. It has also announced nearly 250 job losses at the airport, including 76 directly employed staff and 176 by aircraft handling firm Swissport.

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