UK business will be “stuck in third gear” until flights resume from the coronavirus crisis, the boss of the UK’s largest airport warned today.

Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye also called on ministers to urgently outline plans for re-opening borders once Covid-19 has been defeated.

The airport is supporting the government’s aim of avoiding a second wave of infection, even though the 14-day quarantine plan announced by prime minister Boris Johnson on Sunday “will effectively close borders temporarily”.

The London hub warned: “It is likely that few passenger flights will operate and even less people will travel until the quarantine is lifted.’

Passenger numbers using Heathrow were down 97% in April with the airport supporting essential travel for just 200,000 people in the month – the same number it would typically serve in just one day.

Many were on board 218 repatriation charter flights that landed at Heathrow.

“Demand is expected to remain weak until governments lift lockdowns,” the airport added.

“Without long-haul passenger flights, there will be very limited trade as 40% of UK exports and inward supply chain travels in the cargo holds of passenger planes from Heathrow.

“Until people can fly freely again, industries in all corners of the country will remain stagnant.”

Heathrow reverted to running mainly cargo flights last month with 1,788 operated to help to bring in critical supplies of PPE.

Holland-Kaye said: “Aviation is the lifeblood of this country’s economy, and until we get Britain flying again, UK business will be stuck in third gear.

“The government needs to urgently lay out a roadmap for how they will reopen borders once the disease has been beaten, and to take an immediate lead in agreeing a Common International Standard for health in aviation that will allow passengers who don’t have the infection to travel freely.”

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