MPs warn that aviation must be included in future pandemic resilience plans to ensure travellers and the industry have predictability and transparency.
Their new report is available here UK aviation: Reform for take-off, parliament’s transport committee sets out positive actions for the government to support the recovery and development of the sector following the coronavirus pandemic.
The 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 neither transparent nor 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.
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The report urged government to establish an international travel toolkit, based on transparency and proportionate action principles. MPs argue that international travel restrictions should be supported by the advice and analysis provided by ministers when imposing restrictions, taking into account economic and public health factors. A global taskforce should be established to standardize the remaining international travel requirements.
Today’s report makes recommendations on international travel including testing, consumer rights, domestic air travel, sustainable aviation and slot rules. The following are key actions for government:
- Publicize the aviation recovery plan as a priority, no later than 1 Juni 2022.
- To better protect consumers, taxpayers, and employees, introduce the Airline Insolvency Bill to Parliament in the next Session.
- Increase the Civil Aviation Authority’s power to impose financial sanctions on airlines that don’t refund customers when necessary. Also, it is necessary to review power to enforce potential environmental mandates.
- If necessary, intervene to provide safe and affordable coronavirus travel testing options.
- To improve connectivity between the four UK countries, make it easier to implement flexible rules for Public Service Obligation routes as well as Air Passenger Duty.
- 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.
April 2022 saw an increase in airport passenger numbers to their highest levels since the outbreak. This placed pressure on the sector over the Easter holidays. The committee is critical that the government attempts to place blame on an aviation industry decimated due to restrictions and a lackof certainty offered ministers.
The government is also asked to review processes related to the timely training and recruitment of staff.
Transport committee chair 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 passengers and the industry confused and unable plan ahead. This led to a severe economic deficit in the aviation sector. Many people lost their jobs. Many more were unable to 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 necessary to give the industry more flexibility in recruiting new staff for summer, to give regulators more power to intervene on behalf consumer and to protect from airline insolvencies.
“Today we set out sensible recommendations with the aim of helping government to achieve this. Ministers should be transparent with passengers and industry. We saw a sector that was still in the early stages and is vulnerable to disruption over Easter. The increase in demand is encouraging but a sustained and supportive approach from government is vital to nurse the sector back to recovery.”
A Department for Transport spokesperson has hit back at the committee’s findings, stating: “Our priority was protecting public health, and these measures bought vital time for the rollout of our successful booster programme as we responded to new and concerning variants.
“But we also ensured they were in place for no longer than absolutely necessary, and the UK was the first country in the G7 to remove all travel restrictions.
“In future, the government’s default approach will be to use the least stringent measures, to minimise the impact on travel as far as possible and these will only be implemented in extreme circumstances.”