Britain's top business leaders desperate for Covid airport testing issue dire ...

A string of business leaders yesterday issued dire warnings about the disastrous economic consequences of failing to get Britain flying again.

Rolls-Royce, which makes and services engines for airlines around the world, threw its weight behind the campaign to bring in an airport Covid testing regime.

Experts said quarantine rules for travellers coming to Britain are costing the tourism industry £650million a week.

It came as Virgin Atlantic announced it would cut another 1,150 jobs in a further blow to the aviation sector.

Industry leaders, airlines and airports have warned the economy will nose dive until crippling 14-day quarantines can be eliminated and passengers can move smoothly through borders.

Meanwhile, leading American businesses and airlines have called on UK ministers to take action to introduce airport testing to open up transatlantic travel.

Airlines and aircraft manufacturers have suffered huge losses after lockdown restrictions to stem the spread of coronavirus brought global air travel almost to a standstill for several months.

Pictured: British Airways aircraft parked at Bournemouth airport where they are expected to remain after the airline reduced flights amid travel restrictions and a huge drop in demand as a result of the coronavirus pandemic

Pictured: British Airways aircraft parked at Bournemouth airport where they are expected to remain after the airline reduced flights amid travel restrictions and a huge drop in demand as a result of the coronavirus pandemic

Rolls-Royce chief executive Warren East said increasing air travel would be crucial to preserving thousands of jobs in the UK’s world-leading aerospace manufacturing industry.

Mr East said: ‘Aviation has a vital role to play in helping the world recover from the pandemic. But this is not only about reconnecting people, trade and tourism.

‘The aerospace industry employs tens of thousands in the UK and generates revenue and intellectual property for the country. Getting people flying again needs to be a high priority for the Government.’

Rolls-Royce has been forced to axe 9,000 staff – nearly one in five workers – and to raise £2billion by selling off parts of its business as it struggles to survive the crisis.

Paul Everitt, the chief executive of aerospace and defence industry body ADS, said companies could halt job cuts and keep staff on their books if there was greater demand for flights. Britain’s aerospace and defence industry employs around 250,000, both directly and in the wider supply chain. Some 60,000 of these are either on furlough or at risk of redundancy, according to ADS.

Mr Everitt said: ‘If we at least had the confidence that there would be a growing number of air passengers and if we had a testing regime to build back that passenger base, then we would know we had reached the bottom and would start rising back up.’ The quarantine measures have also damaged the UK’s hospitality and in-bound tourism sectors.

According to the latest estimates from Visit Britain, the number of foreign visitors has dropped by 73 per cent compared with last year – a loss of 31million tourists. Spending by visitors was down by 79 per cent, equal to £24billion.

Virgin Atlantic said yesterday it would be forced to make more sweeping cuts despite securing a £1.2billion rescue deal that will keep it going for the next 18 months.

It had already laid off 3,500 employees out of the 10,000-strong workforce it had at the beginning of the year and shut its base at Gatwick.

Virgin, alongside other groups including Heathrow Airport and Airlines UK, has urged the US and UK governments to launch a passenger testing trial for flights between New York and London by the end of the month.

At the moment Britons cannot enter the US directly from the UK, and those travelling from the US to the UK must self-isolate for two weeks when they arrive.

Industry bodies British American Business (BAB), which represents top US and UK banks and businesses, and Airlines for America, whose members include all the major US airlines, said testing was the only way to reopen transatlantic travel.

BAB chief executive Duncan Edwards said: ‘Covid-19 testing before departure or at airports will be an effective risk mitigation measure for destinations considered to be at higher risk.’

So how bad does it have to get before Boris acts?

Commentary by Tim Alderslade, Chief executive, Airlines UK 

Tim Alderslade, Chief Executive of Airlines UK (pictured) asks: How bad does it have to get before Boris acts?

Tim Alderslade, Chief Executive of Airlines UK (pictured) asks: How bad does it have to get before Boris acts?

Do you remember when this Government was talking up its vision of a post-Brexit ‘Global Britain’? It was a noble ambition, in keeping with our proud island history.

Then came the pandemic and Brexit took a back seat.

Now as we emerge from the aftermath and attention focuses on rebuilding the economy and, yes, on a Brexit agreement once more, ministers must be aware that there can be no Global Britain without a world-beating airline industry.

And yet one of Britain’s most important strategic sectors is disintegrating before our eyes. Another 1,150 job cuts were announced yesterday by Virgin, on top of the 3,000 already slashed.

British Airways has said it might ultimately have to reduce its payroll by an astonishing 12,000 individuals.

Heathrow has already completed a first round of redundancies and is now consulting with its unions, which could end in further job losses.

This is in addition to a record pre-tax loss of £5.4billion for the first half of the year posted last month by Rolls-Royce, which makes jet engines.

Meanwhile, low-cost airlines are cutting staff and routes to scores of smaller regional airports.

Just how bad does it have to get before action is taken?

Pictured: People wearing face masks walk through an almost empty Heathrow arrivals hall upon their return to the London airport

Pictured: People wearing face masks walk through an almost empty Heathrow arrivals hall upon their return to the London airport

The worst of the damage is being done because of the Government’s dogged insistence that we stick by the blunt instrument of quarantine rather than use the rapier of testing passengers for Covid-19 at airports.

The airline industry’s hopes that ministers might adopt a more flexible approach were dashed by the Prime Minister yesterday, who cited data suggesting airport testing picks up only 7 per cent of cases.

That outdated figure relates to limited data on the virus from the start of the crisis. It also relates to a ‘single test’ model on arrival, when the industry has been pleading for a two-step approach (in the first instance) to be adopted so they prove the efficacy.

The airlines my organisation represents – and British

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