A government decision on Covid-testing air travellers has been delayed by the crisis in the test system nationally, says Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye.
But the Heathrow chief expressed sympathy for the government’s position and insisted the UK is “better off in some ways” than many countries.
Holland-Kaye told Travel Weekly: “What has really held things up in the last weeks is the government has had its own crisis with testing capacity, and there has been concern that we don’t have international passengers adding to the challenges the government testing facilities have.”
He dismissed the suggestion that the government is not listening to the aviation industry, saying: “They have so many things on their plates [with] just keeping the nation healthy and avoiding the catastrophic impacts of the disease.”
Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast, Holland-Kaye said: “Here in the UK we’ve gone from having only 3% of normal traffic in the worst months of Covid to now having 15% to 20% of normal traffic.
“That is nowhere near enough to support the aviation sector, but we’re better off in some ways than many other countries which just have blanket quarantine.
“That is because the UK government has taken a risk-based approach to opening borders. So we’re in a better state than we could have been.
“Many airlines and airports in other countries are really struggling with minimal passengers.”
Heathrow has airport testing facilities in place at two terminals and is ready to starting testing passengers from ‘high-risk’ countries as soon as the government gives the go-ahead.
Holland-Kaye said: “To avoid this becoming another burden for the government, we’re proposing these tests be done privately and be paid for by the individual [passenger]. It’s not putting a burden on the government purse.”
The tests would not be cheap at £150 a time and could involve two tests several days apart so would be unlikely to mean an immediate return of traffic. But Holland-Kaye believes they would be attractive to some passengers, including corporate travellers, if they offer a reduction in quarantine time.
He said: “It won’t mean we’ll immediately bounce back to a significant level of traveling, but it will allow people who really want to travel for business or visiting friends and relatives to start.
“The government is burdened with a huge number of difficult decisions and they need the private sector to help solve some of the problems for them.
“That is why we haven’t been critical of the government.
“We’ve been trying to propose real world solutions to some of the difficulties they have and try to move things on to help support the recovery of the economy and protect the aviation sector.”
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