Aviation industry responds to government Global Travel Taskforce launch

(Photo: Heathrow Airport)

Work to begin with sector on how to safely reduce self-isolation period using targeted testing

The travel industry has reacted following the creation of a unit to introduce an airport testing regime at UK facilities.

On Wednesday, the government launched a Global Travel Taskforce that aims to make flying simpler whilst ensuring the safety of passengers. The new initiative, introduced to help the aviation sector with its recovery, seeks to reduce the self-isolation period with testing.

While the announcement was widely welcomed by industry stakeholders, many believe it must be implemented as soon as possible.

Karen Dee, the chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, thinks the task force is a step in the right direction: “Airports will work with the government to get this up and running as soon as possible to allow our industry to begin its long recovery from the devastating impacts of the pandemic. A key focus for the task force also has to be the introduction of new rapid tests as soon as possible, both to make testing quicker and cheaper, as well as reducing the time passengers would need to isolate.”

The Department for Transport and the Department of Health and Social Care have been working together on the testing of international arrivals with advice from clinicians and health experts.

Matt Hancock, the government’s health secretary, believes the implementation of a new task force will help “open up” the country to international travel.

Grant Shapps, transport secretary, added: “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.”

A Virgin Atlantic spokesperson said the right steps are being taken but said more still needs to be done: “We support the government’s decision to opt for a single-test, private sector-led, passenger-funded approach that does not compete for, nor divert, vital NHS testing resources, to reduce travel restrictions while protecting public health.

“But a firm commitment that a comprehensive testing regime will be implemented in November is required to boost consumer confidence, enable global travel and protect jobs,” the spokesperson added.

The Board of Airline Representatives (BAR UK) in the UK – which engages with governments and regulators on behalf of more than 70 global carriers – welcomed the news but expected more detail.

Dale Keller, chief executive of BAR UK commented: “Every day that overseas markets remain closed [it] is costing the UK heavily in lost jobs, collapsing trade and negative social impacts, and we urge the UK government to bring forward a passenger testing regime with utmost urgency as a national priority.”

The group will investigate the feasibility of proposals based on a test taken after a period of isolation, which the government says will be provided by the private sector and funded by the passenger.

Working with medical experts, the task force expects to be able to gain a better understanding of when a test should be taken based on the progression of the disease.