COVID-19 Update 20
Wednesday 15 April 2020
Dear AOA Member,
As Government comes under pressure to publish an exit strategy and European nations look to relax some of their lockdown measures, the call I joined this morning with the Business Secretary, Alok Sharma, began to focus on recovery as well as efforts to manage the current crisis. Organisations on the call were keen to stress the importance of starting recovery planning as soon as possible and in the case of aviation, I made the point that this planning should be coordinated with European and international partners. Ours is a global industry and our ability to bounce-back from this crisis will depend on cooperation and understanding between destination countries and trading partners across the world.
The Job Retention Scheme is front of everybody’s minds at the moment, and the AOA team joined a conference call with HM Treasury, BEIS and HMRC to address some specific questions. Businesses will be able to apply online to the scheme from Monday 20 April, and should receive payments after necessary checks have been conducted; it was Treasury and HMRC’s hope that payments would be received latest by 30 April. A couple of specific points we raised:
- On the extension of the job retention scheme beyond 30 May, Treasury pointed out that the scheme wasn’t technically operational yet so the Government couldn’t commit to extending the scheme until they had ascertained the levels of uptake throughout the economy.
- On mandatory training, HMT said that while training was permissible, anything requiring actual work (e.g. managing air traffic for enough hours to remain current) is considered to be work and thus not allowed.
- We raised the need for more flexibility, e.g. shorter furlough periods to enable staff to rotate more often to keep them current, but HMT argued that this could undermine the simplicity – and thus deliverability – of the scheme.
As I mentioned yesterday, we had a series of calls with the Aviation Minister with airports of different sizes. The overall message was one of understanding. The Minister was aware of airport concerns regarding the JRS extension and the prompt payment of funds, promising to continue to relay this to HM Treasury. On business rates, the Minister assured airports that the Chancellor and HM Treasury were well aware of the industry’s ask on this, but stressed that there were no current plans to extend business rates relief. This was a point subject to review as the crisis deepens. Finally, the Minister mentioned that officials in the Department for Transport were beginning to form a recovery and resilience unit to examine the policies necessary to support the sector after the crisis has abated. The scale of this challenge was not lost on the Minister.
A number of airports have reported negative press and local complaints at the continuation of flights and the apparent incompatibility of this activity with the lockdown measures in the last week or so. The Minister confirmed her intention to write to all MPs to set out Government’s approach to aviation and why it is essential that key operations can continue.
Our media work continues in the background and The Guardian today covered our calls for further government action in a wider piece looking at impacts on aviation. Other stories we’re working on focus on the role of airports during the lockdown, particularly the critical services that continue, and initial looks at the recovery to underline what Government action will be needed to support that.