The devastating impact of Covid was laid bare in a hearing between aviation bosses and a Commons inquiry
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The “devastating” impact of Covid-19 on Britain’s aviation industry was laid bare to MPs today.
Bosses of major airlines and airports revealed the unprecedented toll the pandemic has inflicted on their businesses – with billions of pounds of losses and thousands of workers made redundant.
Senior sector figures piled pressure on ministers to scrap the coronavirus testing regime for international travel and axe restrictions on foreign visits.
Giving evidence to the Commons Transport Select Committee, EasyJet’s chief commercial officer Sophie Dekkers said: “We have seen a significant impact over the last 18 months.
“From April through to the end of June, we operated 17% of our available capacity that we operated in 2019 in the same period – significant grounding of the whole fleet across the network.
“What we have seen over the summer with the easing of restrictions and the removal of testing requirements, demand is picking up again over the summer.
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“July through to September we have operated around 73% of the capacity we had available versus the same period in 2019.”
However, the figure was just 32% for international flights, with internal UK trips at 99% and skewing the figures.
Planes were 63% full; in a normal summer, EasyJet’s aircraft would be at least 90% full.
“With those restrictions in place, consumers just didn’t want to travel,” she told the committee.
“There was too much uncertainty.”
British Airways’ acting chief commercial officer Colm Lacy said 2020 revenue was 70% lower than in 2019.
“We had an operating loss of £2.3billion versus an operating profit of £1.9bn in the same period in 2019,” he said.
“It was extremely challenging.
“If you look at the first half of this year in terms of June to date, our operating loss is £1.3bn.
“We flew 14% of what we flew in 2019.”
BA’s flights were just 44% full, compared with 84% for the same period in 2019.
Gatwick boss Stewart Wingate said Covid-19 “had a devastating impact” on the airport.
He added: “In 2019 Gatwick saw 46.5 million passengers.
Last year we saw 10 million passengers – 8.5m of those passengers went through our doors before the end of March.
“In the last nine months of last year we saw only 1.5m passengers.
“In the first half of this year we saw just over half a million passengers.
“Typically we would see half a million passengers in the first three days of August.”
Gatwick made a loss of nearly £750m in 2019 and the first half of this year.
Mr Wingate said Gatwick was “the hardest hit of all large airports across Europe” as airlines scrapped operations and switched to their main base at Heathrow.
Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said the airport recorded a loss of nearly £3bn in the first 15 months of the crisis.
Airlines and airports were forced to make redundancies as the pandemic tightened its grip.
Heathrow axed 2,000 directly-employed workers – but Mr Holland-Kaye said 110,000 people had security passes to work on the vast West London site before the pandemic struck.
Some 40,000 were handed back during the crisis, which Mr Holland-Kaye said could represent the total number of jobs shed.
EasyJet slashed 500 backroom staff and cut pilots’ hours so most are now part-time.
BA cut 10,000 staff across all roles.
Gatwick said it shed 1,600 directly-employed workers, despite making “extensive use of the Government’s furlough scheme”.
The industry bosses were speaking 24 hours after the White House announced fully-vaccinated Britons could fly to the US from November.
The UK Government has also announced plans to axe the amber list on the Covid-19 traffic light regime for international travel.
Mr Holland-Kaye described the moves as “a good start”.
But, calling for a “fight back”, he added: “Other governments have seen the international aviation sector as being essential to the health of their economies.”
Blasting delays to relaxing rules, Ms Dekkers said: “We have missed the summer now.”
Warning that potential fliers were still confused about the system, particularly around testing, she said: “A lateral flow test still costs about £40 on average … it will be a barrier for some.
“The UK is lagging behind Europe – nowhere else in Europe do they test like this.”
She added: “We need to remove this last hurdle.”
BA’s Mr Lacy called for hotel quarantine, which costs £2,285 for an 11-night stay for passengers coming from red list nations, to be replaced with home quarantine.
“It’s completely prohibitive,” he warned.
Mr Holland-Kate demanded a return to “frictionless travel”, adding: “We are going to have to live with Covid, we all recognise that.”