Pilots are calling for urgent action to help aviation because of the “devastating” impact of the pandemic-related lockdowns on UK airlines and airports.
The British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) said the UK aviation industry has been the hardest hit in Europe by restrictions on international travel.
Its analysis of official European air traffic data for June showed that the number of flights into and out of the UK has fallen by three-quarters compared to 2019.
The union said its study showed that Gatwick and Manchester airports were the worst affected in Europe, with Heathrow and Stansted close behind.
According to world trade body the International Air Transport Association, 860,000 jobs in UK aviation travel and tourism have been lost or are on furlough and are at risk of being lost, said BALPA.
General Secretary Brian Strutton said: “It’s official. The UK aviation industry is the hardest hit in Europe, caused by the UK government’s ludicrously cautious restrictions on international travel.
“Hapless ministers give all the appearance of deliberately attacking aviation and tormenting the public with their mixed messages over summer holidays.
“BALPA is demanding that the UK government gets its act together and opens the U.S. routes and European holiday travel destinations that it has blocked with no published evidence at all.
“If the country is going to build back better from the pandemic and build new international links with partners for trade and travel, we are going to need a thriving aviation industry. There is no time to hide behind task forces and reviews.”
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said holidays as normal were “never going to be the case” given the rise of particular COVID-19 variants.
Asked if he can offer pilots any hope, Buckland told Sky’s “Trevor Phillips On Sunday” programme: “I think the system we devised, Trevor, was designed to give the highest degree of hope consistent with the need to contain and control the virus.
“I think that inevitably in a situation as unprecedented and demanding as this, there are going to have to be significant trade-offs and it’s clear that holidays as normal or travel as normal was never going to be the case, bearing in mind the rise of particular variants, most notably the Delta variant.
“I think all throughout this crisis we’ve tried to strike the right balance between the natural need in some cases for international travel, but also the imperative of making sure that we do everything we can at home to contain and prevent inadvertent spread of new variants of concern.
“This is a huge, difficult situation. I think of omelettes and eggs I’m afraid. But we are doing our very best to maintain that balance with regular reviews of the regulations to allow the maximum flexibility.”
A government spokesman said: “We recognise the challenging times facing all sectors of transport as a result of COVID-19, which is why we have put in place an economy-wide support package, including around £7 billion [$9.27 billion] of support expected to benefit the air transport sector by September 2021.
“We continue to work with the aviation sector to help them navigate this period, and encourage them to draw on the unprecedented package of support measures available.”
BALPA members will join colleagues from across the aviation and travel industry to take their message to MPs in Westminster and MSPs in Holyrood, as part of a nationwide Travel Day of Action on Wednesday.
Pilots will also join action at Heathrow, Bristol, Edinburgh, and Manchester airports.
ABTA said the day of action will see calls for the UK government to allow international travel to return safely and in a risk-managed way by properly implementing the Global Travel Taskforce’s plan for a traffic light system.
It said this can be done by expanding the green list “in line with the evidence and making restrictions more proportionate,” while keeping a strong red list to guard against variants.
It is also calling on ministers to bring forward a package of tailored financial support, including extension of furlough support, recognising that the travel sector’s ability to trade and generate income is “much slower than first anticipated and more gradual than for businesses in the domestic economy.”
By Alan Jones