Covid-19 updates

COVID-19 Update 43

Tuesday 19 May 2020

Dear AOA Member,

While COVID-19 is everyone’s focus at the moment, there’s still a lot happening in other areas, not least Brexit. Today, the UK Government published a raft of draft legal texts for the future UK-EU relationship, including a draft Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement (CATA) and a draft Civil Aviation Safety Agreement (CASA) and Annexes.

Before looking at the detail of the CATA, a brief summary of where the UK-EU negotiations are currently. Last week, at the end of the most recent week of negotiations, the UK and EU lead negotiators, David Frost and Michel Barnier respectively, outlined where we are. To date, good progress has been made on certain specific issues such as transport but for some of the overarching negotiations, notably on the level playing field, the negotiations are largely stalled with both sides setting out their own positions rather than making progress on reaching common positions.  The transport discussions are expected to continue to make progress, but at this stage it is unlikely they’ll be able to conclude formally until the higher level agreements have been reached.

Specifically on the CATA, the UK has tabled an agreement that on a number of points is very liberal, notably ownership & control, code sharing and wet leasing. The hope is that this will prompt the EU to move from its more conservative positions, towards the UK position. These will be vital, particularly in a COVID-19 world, when flexibility will be important to the viability of airlines – this is particularly the case for investor flexibility under ownership and control.

The main area of disappointment for us is that the CATA only refers to fully liberalised 3rd and 4th freedoms, without any mention of further freedoms. While we are not going to replicate the market access currently enjoyed by the UK, it would have been good to see an ambition for at least 5th freedoms and possibly 7th (either cargo only, as per the EU-US Open Skies Agreement, or both passengers and cargo, as per the EU-Swiss air transport agreement). DfT officials have sought to reassure us that just because they’re not in the draft agreement, it doesn’t mean they’re not being discussed and that there is no closed door to further freedoms. We have, in turn, stressed the importance of being more ambitions on traffic rights. We will keep a close eye on the negotiations, particularly as they approach the June deadline for an extension.

On the subject of COVID-19, we’ve seen positive media coverage of the concept of Public Health Corridors, also referred to as air bridges or air travel corridors. Huw Merriman MP, the Chair of the Transport Select Committee is very interested in this and raised it in Parliament during Transport Questions yesterday. We had a productive industry/government call today where we started to flesh out the detail further, with a number of areas (such as transit passengers) identified for further work.

Finally, a couple of short points:

  • Business Support Helpline: The number for the Government’s Coronavirus Business Support Helpline – which provides advice to businesses on what support mechanisms are available – has changed to 0800 998 1098 (though there is also a webchat). Both the helpline and webchat are open from 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday.
  • Tourism Scenario and Intervention Modelling: DCMS is currently tendering a £100,000 research project looking at the impact of COVID-19 on UK tourism under different scenarios and the impact of various possible Government intervention mechanisms. While the contract period is until Jun 2021, the hope is that initial research outcomes will be available sooner. Details of the tender here.
  • Charter flights for return to UK: the Government has updated its advice and the booking process to people trying to book a charter flight in order to return to the UK as a result of COVID-19.
  • COVID-19 Detection Dogs Trial Launches: the Government has launched a trial to see if sniffer dogs could be used to detect people suffering from the virus.

Best wishes,

Karen Dee
Chief Executive