Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 October 2020

CORONAVIRUS

Testing centre lies empty at Heathrow Airport as transatlantic losses mount

Aviation experts want a testing regime to allow the vital London to New York route to re-open

Heathrow's chief executive has warned that Britain’s economic recovery is stalling due to the impact on international travel. British Airways
Heathrow's chief executive has warned that Britain’s economic recovery is stalling due to the impact on international travel. British Airways

A Covid-19 testing facility at London’s Heathrow Airport that can handle 13,000 samples a day is lying unused a month after opening its doors as airport bosses unsuccessfully lobby for a new air bridge to the United States.

A new study by leading aviation firms published on Monday claimed that coronavirus-related restrictions on UK-US travel would cost the British economy at least £11 billion this year. Thousands of jobs are at risk unless transport links are re-established with the UK’s largest trading partner, said Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye.

More than 22 million passengers used direct air services between the two countries in 2019 but seat capacity is down 85 per cent compared with the same time last year, according to the study by trade body Airlines UK.

The US-UK route has restrictions on entry and quarantine requirements on both sides of the Atlantic. Travellers from the US need to self-isolate for 14 days.

The US bars entry to passengers who have been in the UK during the previous fortnight. In July, it allowed exemptions for some business travellers, investors, academics and students.

The privately-run testing centre at Heathrow opened in August.

Airport bosses said the facility was an opportunity to show Britain could safely reopen for business.

It was intended to allow passengers to be swab-tested and receive their results in a few hours.

A second test a few days later would allow the lifting of a two-week quarantine, said officials.

However, the government has declined to sign off on the programme and the facility remains empty.

Grant Shapps, the transport minister, said only seven per cent of people with coronavirus might be identified by the airport test.

But Heathrow said more than 30 countries had a system in place to test on arrival to avoid the need for quarantine.

The airport and British Airways chief executive Alex Cruz have both championed a plan to test out the system between London and New York.

Mr Holland-Kaye said: “This is an opportunity to set up a common international standard … that could apply around the world.

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100 years of British Airways - in pictures

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Mr Cruz, who faces making 12,000 staff redundant, told MPs last week that it was "incredibly important" to see up a testing regime as quickly as possible.

“Ministers must reach agreement with their US counterparts on a testing regime that minimises quarantine and permits regional travel corridors to reopen the UK-US market.

“They must learn from trials across the globe and start implementing new measures as soon as possible to return confidence in flying and protect thousands of jobs.”

Updated: September 21, 2020 04:28 PM

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