The government has signalled it could sign off a Covid-testing trial of air passengers in October and flights to New York could be “up and running” by the end of November, according to the head of Heathrow.

John Holland-Kaye, the airport’s chief executive, told Travel Weekly: “We’ve heard from the prime minister that he hopes to go to a trial in the second half of October.

“It would take a couple of weeks to put into practice.”

Asked if that could mean substantial flying by summer 2021, Holland-Kaye said: “Absolutely, yes. We can start testing at some scale in the next few months. I would love to have a New York-London pilot up and running by Thanksgiving [November 26]. That seems entirely feasible.

“If we get good results, there is no reason we shouldn’t be able to extend it. It’s possible that in the first or second quarter of next year, we see ‘rapid point of care’ tests become more normal.”

But Holland-Kaye warned: “The demand for these will be enormous. It might take much longer before there is sufficient supply to satisfy the needs of all travellers.”


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Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast, Holland-Kaye said: “There is consensus that testing is the answer to getting people flying, that testing before departure is the better way of doing it and that we need a common international standard.

“We’ve put lots in place to make sure we can be ready to go, [but] we don’t know whether airport testing will be part of the solution. The government isn’t comfortable with a single test on arrival because if you’ve only just contracted the disease, you may not show up on a test.”

He explained: “We’ve proposed two things: a shorter quarantine on arrival followed by a test after five or seven days for people from high-risk countries, [and] a pilot on the New York-London route with testing before people get on a plane. That’s more complicated to set up because you need mutual recognition of
testing between countries.”

Passengers would pay £150 a time for the tests.

A senior airline source said: “There are things developing behind the scenes. If we have a decision in October, there is no reason a trial couldn’t be in place for November.”

However, airlines would prefer a government test regime rather than a privately financed one like Heathrow’s. The source said: “We don’t want private solutions with differing tests and differing costs.
That would be complicated. This has to be integrated with the government test-and-trace system.”

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