Covid-19 Update 3
Thursday 19th March 2020
Today we have continued to press Government for swift action. It is disappointing that there has been no announcement of any proposals yet, though we have had some productive conversations with senior officials and they have been able to reassure us that progress is being made in the Department for Transport (DfT) on the regulatory relaxations we have been calling for. We have re-emphasised the importance of clarity on the support package this week. DfT have also told us they are preparing rosters so they can work seven days a week, enabling them to respond as and when needed to developments.
To keep up the pressure on Government, we have contacted all MPs with airports in their constituencies, the Chairs of the Transport and Business Select Committees, Labour, Lib Dem and SNP transport spokespersons and MPs with an interest in aviation to highlight what the aviation sector needs from Government. A number of them have already been in touch to say they are happy to help us in any way possible, in addition to the work they’re doing with their local airports on the COVID-19 impacts. We have also continued to brief the media on the need for action and what could happen if action is delayed or insufficient. See here in the Guardian an example of how that is being reported.
More broadly on the communications side, airports joined the DfT on a conference call today to discuss communication challenges and approaches. It was a helpful opportunity in particular to outline the need for the DfT to ensure that the provision of school and childcare facilities for children of key workers after the closure of schools includes essential airport workers and the importance of communicating this at the earliest opportunity to reassure airport staff.
As outlined in our update yesterday, we have been urging Government to consider the whole aviation ecosystem in its support package. Today, we had helpful discussions with ground handling agents about the impacts of the COVID-19 on them and we made further representations on their behalf to Government. A number of our non-airport members have responded to our last two updates with details of how they are impacted, e.g. around security, air traffic services and other vital parts of the airport operation. We have been passing these on to Government so they have an understanding of the reality on the ground and the measures they would find helpful.
You may also have seen in the news today that the Government has published its emergency legislation to underpin its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Coronavirus Bill can be read in full here, but a key provision applies to airports and other ports of entry. The Bill highlights that if Border Force resources are depleted due to COVID-19 and there is a real and significant risk to border security, then the Government is granted the power to direct arrivals to ports in the UK where security checks can take place. In the event that there are such insufficient resources, the Bill gives powers to Government to direct a port operator to suspend relevant operations, partially or wholly. The Government assures the sector that these powers will only be used where the Secretary of State believes that it is necessary and proportionate and once all relevant alternative mitigations have been exhausted. There is also provision in the Bill allowing immigration officials to place people in isolation. The Bill is expected to clear the House of Commons on Monday and be debated in the House of Lords later in the week.
Lastly, EUROCONTROL has created an overview of airline and state responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, which you might find useful. You can find a copy of the overview here.
We will provide you with a further update tomorrow but in the meantime, please do not hesitate to get in touch with any comments or issues you would like us to raise with Government.