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Airports need urgent help – trade body

23 March 2020

UK airports have called on the Government for emergency financial assistance to cope with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Many airlines have grounded the majority of their fleets as governments around the world impose international travel bans to try and control the spread of the virus.

Responding to the Chancellor’s announcements this week that the Government will support businesses, Airport Operators Association (AOA) chief executive Karen Dee said: “The Chancellor’s unambiguous statement of support for UK businesses is welcome and measures such as the unlimited loans to support businesses manage cashflows provide reassurance.

“However, with passenger numbers declining rapidly in recent days, airports want to hear the details of the specific support package for the aviation industry as soon as possible. We urge the Chancellor to be as bold in this aviation support package as he was on some of the measures announced today to ensure airports can reassure staff and passengers that they will be there to provide the connectivity the UK needs after the COVID-19 pandemic has receded.

“We are clear that airports will shut down in weeks unless urgent action is taken to support the industry.”

Dee said airports were taking “immediate and drastic action to cut costs and are scaling back investments”. 

“Due to the fixed costs of operating airports, the Government will need to provide additional support.”

The AOA also wants the Government to suspend Air Passenger Duty for six months after the pandemic is brought under control, to help restore demand. 

Gatwick Airport said this week that it was now closed between midnight and 0530. Two of its six piers have shut. “Further action is also likely to be announced in coming days to reduce the airport’s ‘operational footprint’,” it said.

The airport’s owners said they were “deferring spending on its investment programme for the foreseeable future”. It is unclear if this affects the £150m project to double capacity at the airport’s railway station. This was given the go-ahead last summer and the airport is contributing £37m. 

Gatwick has terminated the employment of 200 staff on temporary fixed term contract and contractors. It is exploring  options such as unpaid leave or temporary salary cuts for staff.

Stewart Wingate, Gatwick’s chief executive officer, and his executive team are taking a 20 per cent salary cut and have waived any bonus for the current financial year. “Significantly reduced passenger numbers are likely to be sustained, at least in the short to medium term, and I need to prepare people for the news that other serious measures are likely,” said Wingate.  

“We strongly urge the Government to provide support in order to protect the business and the contribution it makes to the region and wider economy.”

Gatwick Airport is owned by VINCI Airports (50.01 per cent) and Global Infrastructure Partners (49.99 per cent).

Analyst S&P Global said the impact of COVID-19 could be longer lasting than previous virus outbreaks such as SARS in 2003 and H1N1 in 2009 because of COVID’s rapid spread and the lockdown policies many governments have implemented. 

It predicted full recovery not until 2022 or 2023.


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