Certainty for the travel industry is the number one ask of government, according to the boss of Manchester airport.
Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast, chief operating officer Brad Miller said any easing of quarantine restrictions and the introduction of some air bridges by government would bring back confidence among customers.
“During lockdown, 98-99% of our revenues were completely wiped out,” he said. “We’ve only managed to get our cost base down by 12% to 15%, so it’s had a huge financial impact on us, as well as the rest of the industry; we’re not unique in that regard.
“So even the limited air bridges will just give people confidence that they can fly; that it is safe to fly – and it is.
“If we can all get revenues flowing back anywhere close to what they were pre Covid-19, the industry will largely be able to take care of itself.
“So, giving us some certainty would be the absolute number one priority from government. Lifting quarantine without delay, even if that’s with a risk-based approach, in order to get people flying again; open up air bridges, but give us give us some rules and regulations and guidance that we can interpret and, and consumers can understand, to give them certainty about booking with confidence.”
Miller said the airport’s role in lobbying for the removal of quarantine and the introduction of air corridors had been “huge”.
“We try and collaborate wherever we can and so my colleagues in corporate affairs have been lobbying really hard behind the scenes,” he said.
“They helped with the ideas of air bridges a few weeks ago, they’ve been trying to inject that into government at all different levels, across a lot of different departments. But not just introducing the idea, but how it might work as well. So coming with a ready-made solution, and we’re now slowly starting to hear some of that language and some of that lobbying coming back out of government, which is encouraging, because they’re potentially the signs that they’re taking it on board.”
Miller said he was hopeful, that as soon as the government sees how successful the initial air bridges are, that they will quickly open up more.
“Fingers crossed, if we do see air bridges come in, as soon as the government and regulators do see that they can work, then maybe that will give them the confidence that they can open up more,” he said.
But Miller was not confident air bridges to long-haul destinations were imminent, despite there being “massive pent-up demand” for transatlantic flying in particular, he said.
“When will transatlantic flying return?…who knows? It’s not just the UK government that’s involved with that conversation, it’s obviously authorities across the Atlantic. What we do know for sure, talking to our airline partners, is there’s massive pent up demand out there for transatlantic – this year and next, as I understand things.
“So the market is still really strong, the north west catchment area hasn’t changed. We’ve still got people who want to fly there, so that’s encouraging. It’s just how quickly can we unlock the rules; how quickly can we unlock quarantine; and how quickly can our government work with the US to lift those travel restrictions.”
Miller admitted Manchester had already started to lose some services and predicted that his development team may have to repeat efforts to encourage carriers to reinstate routes.
“We have lost some, so United have said they’re not going to fly for Manchester. American have obviously shut down their programme and only have Philly [Philadelphia] left and there’s a few other long-haul carriers that have started to trim back.
“But saying that, there’s the other side of the coin. Qatar never stopped flying all the way throughout lockdown. Emirates are back. Etihad are talking about coming back; as are Singapore and Cathay,” he said.
“So all of the work that the aviation development team have done working with the trade to make these routes successful, they’re going have to go back over old ground on some of these routes, but the fundamentals haven’t changed. There’s still a really strong catchment from the north west.”
And he added: “From Virgin’s perspective, they can’t wait [to start flying from Manchester again].. Disappointingly, there’s a number of carriers that pulled out of the North America market from Manchester, so they’re going to have a lot of, particularly the East Coast, to themselves.”
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