COVID-19 Update 49
Thursday 28 May 2020
Dear AOA Member,
Two key meetings took place today, first the Expert Steering Group (ESG) of the DfT’s Aviation Restart, Recovery & Engagement Unit and then the Implementation Group for the quarantine period.
The ESG was a very useful meeting, and we were able to make good progress on the health measures. A group of health experts has given their advice on the measures, but there remain a few areas where discussions are ongoing (e.g. on temperature checks, where the medical usefulness is viewed as limited but the public confidence aspect is stronger). The DfT has now appointed KPMG to help with the final drafting of the Guidance. This will essentially be the advice to operators and to passengers on the health measures that will apply to aviation. Ultimately, the guidance will need cross-government clearance and devolved government input but we hope it will still meet the 4-week deadline industry set for Government at the start of this process.
We also discussed the air bridges concept, where good progress has been made and there is increasing Government recognition of the need to tie-in with FCO travel advice. I emphasised that this is our priority in order to get quarantine lifted as soon as possible. In this context, it was good to see the Prime Minister appearing to support the policy in principle at the House of Commons’ Liaison Committee’s hearing yesterday. He said that “we want to make sure we use the three-week reviews to be sensible” adding later that “we will have to agree [air bridges] with the other countries concerned but we will also have to make progress in tackling the disease, and we will have to have evidence that the other countries are in at least as good a position as we are.”
The next meeting I attended was the Home Office/DfT quarantine Implementation Group. I think the meeting underlined my sense that there is still some detail to be resolved in terms of its implementation. The meeting was only with trade associations but across all the modes and as a next step, the Home Office and DfT want to hold more operational discussions. We have asked these to be split by sector, recognising the different customer journeys (e.g. online check-in with airlines could facilitate the contact form more easily). We will liaise with the Home Office and hope to involve as many airport operations teams as possible.
To help us through the challenges of quarantine, the AOA has been calling for business rates relief for airports and related businesses in all four UK nations, not just Scotland and Northern Ireland. This is a long-standing ask of the AOA, and we finally received a response to our letter to the Chancellor, sent on 30 March, in which we raised this. The response came from the Transport Secretary, and he commended the AOA for our work during COVID-19 but unfortunately repeated Government’s view that airports should liaise with their local authorities on business rates. As we have pointed out repeatedly – local authorities are not able to help as they believe they cannot do so within current state aid rules. We will continue to press this point to Government.
Finally, a few short updates:
- Some UKVCAS and VACs Reopening: the Home Office has announced that some UK Visa and Citizenship Application Centres (UKVCAS) will reopen for existing customers on 1 June 2020. Overseas, some UK Visa Application Centres (VACs) are also resuming services. To find out which centres are being reopened contact: TLS contact if you’re in Europe, Africa and parts of the Middle East or VFS global for all other countries.
- The science behind the decisions: to help understand the data and research used to underpin Government policy on COVID-19, here is a link to the papers produced by SAGE. At a first glance, there is limited information on any data behind the quarantine decision.
- Consumer sentiment: The BVA-BDRC is producing reports on consumer sentiment, and this week’s report includes a significant section on sentiment towards tourism and hospitality. Some key findings are that Key findings are: the intention to plan, book and take a UK holiday have both increased significantly this week, while around 7 in 10 will not consider flying with a quarantine policy in place. It also appears people are looking at booking winter sun holidays overseas rather than summer sun holidays