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Clearance for take-off: Transport Committee launches inquiry to plot aviation sector route to recovery

10 September 2021

‘Traffic light’ uncertainty, the cost of testing, long border queues, axed routes, the ending of furlough, struggling airlines - as the aviation industry seeks to rebuild post-pandemic, the Transport Committee is launching a new inquiry to consider the issues facing transport’s most embattled sector – aviation.

Before the pandemic, the UK had the largest aviation network in Europe and the third biggest in the world following the US and China. The UK Government estimated the aviation sector contributed at least £22 billion to the UK’s GDP each year and supported some 500,000 jobs.

By September 2020, seat capacity in the UK had fallen by around 92% compared with the previous year. In mid-2020, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicted losses of up to £20.1 billion in 2020. In January, IATA estimated that 860,000 jobs have either been lost or are being sustained by the Government’s ‘furlough’ scheme. The Airport Operators Group (AOA) reported that its members were losing £83 million a week in 2020.

In Airlines and airports: supporting recovery in the UK aviation sector, MPs will explore what is required to create a financial and environmentally sustainable recovery for the UK aviation sector. MPs will also consider regional connectivity in the UK and the resumption of transatlantic travel.

The inquiry will begin with a scene-setting evidence session on September 21 with airports and airlines who have argued that the uncertainty over the ‘traffic light system’ and how country classifications are made is depressing demand for international travel. Representatives from Heathrow, Gatwick, British Airways and easyJet will attend.

The Committee is also calling for written evidence and has issued terms of reference for the inquiry (details below), with a deadline of October 13.

Call for evidence 

Send us youir views

The Transport Committee welcomes written evidence on the following topics, by October 13, 2021:

Recovery of the UK aviation sector  

  • The short-term and long-term effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the UK aviation industry
  • The effect the end of the furlough scheme may have on the aviation sector
  • How the aviation sector can support the UK’s economic recovery after the coronavirus pandemic
  • The potential merits of Government (a) financial, (b) regulatory and (c) other support to the aviation sector

The traffic light system for international travel 

  • The operation of the Government’s ‘traffic light’ system, including decision making, evidence base, effectiveness and transparency

The cost of international travel 

  • Price and effect on demand of PCR and antigen testing in the UK
  • Cost and effectiveness of hotel quarantine in the UK

Border readiness  

  • The facilitation of effective, efficient and proportionate checks at the border, including passenger waiting times and passenger locator forms

Regional and global connectivity  

  • Connectivity between the regions and nations of the UK, including the steps that the Government can take to support regional connectivity
  • Re-establishing global connectivity to support the Government’s Global Britain agenda


  • The aviation sector’s progress on reducing emissions to support the Government’s aim to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050; and
  • Maintaining a competitive UK aviation sector while ensuring the UK can achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. 

Chair's comment

Chair of the Transport Committee, Huw Merriman MP, said:

“With 80% of the UK population being fully vaccinated, giving strong protection for all known COVID variants, the Government needs to consider whether the cost and inconvenience from barriers to travel remain proportionate to the risks.

The UK’s aviation sector is currently operating at less than 20% of usual capacity. In mainland Europe, this figure has recovered to almost 70%. It cannot be any coincidence that there are fewer barriers to travel in mainland Europe, with many countries requiring no further cost or convenience than proof of vaccination. In contrast, our own testing regime remains expensive and time-consuming. It is not as if the results are being used to fully sequence for variants of concerns. Our investigation into sequencing from positive COVID cases, using NHS Test and Trace data, showed that only 10% of positive COVID-cases from international travel are being sequenced for variants of concern.

The Government must now ask itself if the traffic light system, and the testing regime, is ripe for an overhaul. If the Government decrees that the barriers to travel will continue then it will have to demonstrate why it should not pay compensation for these barriers via a sector-specific continuation of the furlough scheme.

With queues at Heathrow and our other airports taking 5 hours or more to clear, the Government needs to set out a strategy for an efficient and well-resourced border control. Why, when there has been so much time to plan from inactivity, have we not been ready for the limited number of passengers who have returned from abroad this summer? The lack of resilience of border force must not be used as a reason to keep unneeded barriers to travel in place.”

The inquiry will take place as the Government revisits international travel rules as part of its ongoing global travel review checkpoints. The April 2021 Global Travel Taskforce report included a commitment to full e-gates integration with Passenger Locator Forms across all ports of entry by autumn 2021 and consultation on additional, flexible and modern tools to enforce consumer rights. The Aviation Recovery Plan is expected by the end of this year. The Government also stated in Autumn 2020 that before any legislation on the Airline Insolvency Bill, it would undertake a full consultation with key groups, including airlines, airports, consumer groups and the travelling public.  

This new inquiry will build on the work of the Committee, which has tracked the impact of the pandemic on the aviation sector through a report in June 2020; two subsequent reports on the safe return of international travel and letters to the Prime Minister and Home Secretary.

Further information

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