Aviation minister fails to respond to calls for testing

New aviation minister Robert Courts gave a limited response to a withering attack by MPs on the government’s failure to do more to support the industry. Courts acknowledged UK

aviation had been “badly impacted” by the Covid pandemic, but told MPs: “The government is clear that aviation will recover and play a key role in pushing our economy forward.” Responding to a backbench

debate on aviation, Courts insisted: “Airlines, airports and ground handlers have benefited from considerable taxpayer support.” And he argued: “We introduced

the air corridors scheme while other countries kept their borders closed.”

New aviation minister Robert Courts

MPs stress threat to UK tourism jobs posed by end of furlough

MPs warned the government that ending the furlough scheme next month “means mass unemployment” and business failures. Labour shadow tourism and

Courts insisted: “The

government does understand the scale of adjustment the aviation sector has been forced to make.” However, he gave no response

to MPs’ demands to introduce a Covid-testing regime for travellers or to demands for additional business support. Courts replaced Kelly Tolhurst as aviation minister on September 9.

heritage minister Alex Sobel warned “1.35 million tourism jobs could be lost” as he noted UK tourism had “lost Easter, two bank holidays and the whole of June” and “51% of hospitality staff were still not back at work in August”. Speaking in a Parliamentary

debate on tourism, Sobel said: “The end of furlough in October will be disastrous . . . [it] means mass unem- ployment and business closures.” Tourism minister Nigel

Huddleston told MPs the measures the government had introduced had “helped the tourism sector reopen,

but there is a lot more to do”. He said: “We have seen

some positive signs. Hotel and accommodation occupancy rates in coastal and rural areas have been relatively high – in some cases, back to 2019 levels by the end of August.” Many MPs raised the crisis

facing the coach tours sector. Angus MP Dave Doogan warned: “Many coach operators will not recover. The government must act now.” Warwick MP Matt Western agreed,

asking: “Why can people get on an aircraft and sit cheek by jowl with 300 others but can’t get on a coach?” Huddleston acknowledged “the

important role the coach sector has” and said: “We’re engaging with the Department for Transport on the challenges the sector faces.”

May says ‘testing is way forward’ Ian Taylor

Senior politicians slammed the government in Parliament, demanding support for airlines and airports and the rapid introduction of testing to reduce quarantine restrictions. Former prime minister Theresa

May told new aviation minister Robert Courts: “If you want to get the economy moving again, get planes flying. If you want to get planes flying, get testing.” May insisted: “Testing is the way

forward. [But] airports are not even allowed to trial tests. Far from leading the world on this, the UK is lagging behind. Stopping people flying into the UK is not going to stop Covid. It is here. What it does mean is job losses.” She argued: “This is about

assessing risk and mitigating the risks. We have to introduce testing in our airports to reduce the quarantine period.” Former transport secretary Chris

Grayling agreed, telling MPs: “I can’t understand why we’re not at least trialling testing on a number of routes. We have to do this now.” Paul Maynard MP, a former

transport minister, urged the government to introduce pre- departure Covid tests on travellers, saying: “We have a chance to test people before they board – half an hour before check-in. If they test positive, they would not be allowed to board. It’s simple.” Huw Merriman, chair of the

aviation select committee, noted the aviation sector directly employs

230,000 people and said: “Already 30,000 jobs are at risk.” He called on the government

to extend the furlough scheme for aviation and cut APD “for a time” and called for a reallocation of slots at airports. Merriman also hit out at British

Airways over the carrier’s “absolutely shoddy treatment” of staff as it makes more than 12,000 redundancies. He said: “There is so much

suspicion because BA has tried this before. There is a perception the pandemic provided an excuse for BA to do what it already planned.” Merriman called on Luis Gallego,

new chief executive of BA parent IAG who has succeeded Willie Walsh at the head of the group, “to do the right thing”. He said: “It’s not too late to protect your workforce.”

Former PM Theresa May

17 SEPTEMBER 2020 39

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