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A Virgin Atlantic 787-9 departing London Heathrow. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

U.K. Government Form ‘Global Travel Taskforce’ to Recover International Travel

Almost nine months into the global pandemic that has decimated the U.K. tourism, hospitality and aviation sectors, the U.K. government announced on Wednesday the formation of a task force to ‘support the travel industry and the safe recovery of international travel’. The Global Travel Taskforce will report to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and be co-chaired by Grant Shapps the Secretary of State for Transport and the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock. The U.K. government has been criticized for its response to support the travel industry and the use of quarantine and self-isolation as a means of controlling the spread of CoVid-19 by international arrivals into the country.

The aims of the Global Travel Taskforce are to ‘consider what steps the government can take, both domestically and on the international stage, to enable the safe and sustainable recovery of international travel’. To achieve this aim the task force will: work with industry on how to safely reduce the self-isolation period with testing; consider a wide range of other measures to support the travel sector including developing a global framework to make traveling easier; and the government will protect NHS testing capacity while supporting the development of privately funded alternatives.

When the government’s plan to introduce a 14-day period of self-isolation was first announced in May prior to the aviation industry restart it was criticized by senior executives of easyJet, Heathrow and Gatwick airports. In a letter to the U.K. prime minister, reported at the time by The Guardian, the executives stated that: “People will simply choose not to travel to and from the UK, at the same time as economies in Europe and around the world begin opening up their borders and removing their own quarantines, making the UK aviation sector unable to compete.”

After Wednesday’s announcement, a joint statement was issued by several industry leaders including the chief executives of Virgin Atlantic and easyJet saying that the formation of the taskforce was a ‘step in the right direction’. The statement also added that there needed to be more urgency in implementing measures and that ‘travelers need a firm commitment that a comprehensive testing regime will be implemented in early November’. Virgin Atlantic became the first U.K. airline to introduce pre-flight testing for their cabin crew and had been calling on the government to implement a ‘wider coordinated passenger testing regime’.

For some in the aviation industry, the formation of the taskforce is a belated effort by a government that has been consistently lobbied to support the industry but has so far failed to deliver. Dale Keller chief executive of the Board of Airline Representatives in the UK (BAR UK) issued a statement following the government’s announcement of the Global Travel Taskforce.

Mr. Keller stated, “This far into the crisis airlines expected more detail than an announcement of a new taskforce. The industry has been continuously engaged with the Government, including in the Expert Steering Group formed back in May. A huge amount of international experience and proposals have been input so far, including the benefits of pre-departure testing, and we believe that a scheme could be implemented very quickly in a matter of weeks.”

BAR UK is a trade organization that represents a significant number of international airlines that operate to the U.K. Mr. Keller also expressed concern that Mr. Shapps “is still quoting only 7% effectiveness of testing on arrival at airports, a figure that is wholly dismissed as flawed assumptions by the industry from overseas trials. If the Government wants more data it should urgently take up the industry’s proposals for a trial-based data-led approach to inform the taskforce and achieve the best outcomes.”

Chief Executive of Airlines UK an industry association which represents U.K.-registered carriers, echoed the sentiments of his counterpart at BAR UK. Tim Alderslade issued a statement that read, “That the Government is considering testing is a step forward but we need to see the detail. Ultimately we need to get to pre-departure testing for all arrivals in the UK – which is becoming the international norm – as soon as practically possible. Aviation is at a critical juncture and we have no time to lose, and we urge the Prime Minister to move quickly to get testing off the ground no later than the end of November so Britain does not lose further ground with its closest rivals.”

John Flett
John Flett
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