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International travel must not be singled out in future pandemic restrictions, urge MPs

25 April 2022

In a new report, UK aviation: reform for take-off, the Transport Committee sets out positive actions for the Government to support the recovery and development of the sector following the coronavirus pandemic.

The Transport Committee’s report concludes that the Government’s restrictions on air travel throughout the pandemic were disproportionate to the risks to public health, causing a severe financial shock to the sector. The decision-making process was not transparent or consistent, nor based on scientific consensus.

The arbitrary nature of fifteen different changes to restrictions imposed on travellers also left them struggling to navigate a confusing ‘traffic light’ system, access affordable testing and secure refunds.

The Government must set up an international travel toolkit based on the principles of transparency and proportionate action, says the report. International travel restrictions must be evidenced by the advice and analysis used by ministers to impose restrictions, considering public health and economic factors. A global taskforce promoting the standardisation of the remaining international travel requirements should be convened.

Today’s report makes recommendations on international travel including testing, consumer rights, domestic air travel, sustainable aviation and slot rules. Key actions for Government include:

  • Publish the aviation recovery plan as a priority and no later than 1 June 2022.
  • Introduce an Airline Insolvency Bill in the next Session of Parliament, to better protect consumers, employees and taxpayers.
  • Upgrade the power of the Civil Aviation Authority to impose financial penalties on airlines that do not refund customers when required. Powers to enforce potential environmental mandates should also be reviewed.
  • Intervene to establish safe and affordable coronavirus testing options for travel, still required by other countries.
  • Implement more flexible rules on Public Service Obligation routes and Air Passenger Duty to improve connectivity between the four UK nations.
  • Urgently address the delivery of the airspace modernisation strategy to support the Government’s decarbonisation targets.
  • Delay proposed landing charge increases at Heathrow Airport by one year to monitor the progress of the sector’s recovery.

In April 2022, airport passenger numbers increased to their highest since the start of the pandemic, putting pressure on the sector during the Easter holidays. The Committee is critical of Government attempts to lay the blame on an aviation sector decimated by restrictions and a lack of certainty offered by ministers. Government is urged to review the processes related to the timely recruitment and training of staff.

Chair's comment

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

“In the face of a global pandemic, today’s report acknowledges the difficult position faced by Government. However, Government action was inconsistent. It left industry and passengers confused and unable to plan ahead. This resulted in a severe economic deficit for the aviation sector. Thousands of people lost their jobs. Many more could not visit their loved ones. England’s coronavirus restrictions on international travel were imposed with no overall assessment of their impact – a point underlined by the recent report from the National Audit Office.

“Now that Government has removed all coronavirus-related restrictions on international travel, ministers must get on with protecting the sector against future economic shocks and reassuring passengers that future restrictions will only be implemented in extreme circumstances. Legislation is urgently needed to give the industry more flexibility to recruit new staff for the summer, to give the regulator more teeth to intervene on behalf of consumers and to provide protection from airline insolvencies.

“Today we set out sensible recommendations with the aim of helping Government to achieve this. Above all, we want ministers to be transparent with industry and passengers. Over Easter, we witnessed a sector in the early stages of recovery and vulnerable to disruption. The increase in demand is encouraging but a sustained and supportive approach from Government is vital to nurse the sector back to recovery.”

Further information

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