Cardiff Airport’s interim CEO, Spencer Birns, has joined calls for the UK Government to provide assistance to the Aviation industry and warned that without it they risk “more airlines going out of business and airports starting to close down as a result”.
Wales’ only commercial airport has been severely impacted by the Coronavirus Pandemic and for several weeks saw no passengers flights operate.
It is currently running around 20% of the same period last year with its normal 40 daily flights reduced to just 8 on the busiest days.
Mr Birns said “This significant drop in passenger travel is the same for many UK regional airports, as airlines and customers face the challenge of frequently changing UK Government travel advice. The FCO travel guidance advising against ‘all but essential’ travel to the largest tourism markets in Europe, plus subsequent quarantine measures, will continue to slow the aviation industry recovery. Along with Spain and Portugal, we now see the likes of France, Belgium, Malta and The Netherlands recently added to the list, which is having a significant impact on our airlines as, understandably, customers are much less inclined to travel.”
He has called on the government to properly recognise the importance of the aviation industry to the UK and take immediate steps to help it.
One such step could be to suspend Air Passenger Duty (APD) across England and Wales which would take the financial pressure off the airlines and if the savings were passed on to the passenger, in the same was as many restaurants have with the VAT cut, it could encourage more people to fly.
One of the biggest factors however is the sheer uncertainty facing travellers booking flights with regards to Quarantine measures.
With Coronvirus cases rising again across Europe more and more countries could be removed from the Air Bridge list meaning passengers would need to quarantine for 14-days on return.
In most cases passengers will get just 24 hours notice of the change.
Most recent additions to the list Croatia, Austria and Trinidad & Tobago are popular destinations for UK travellers.
Mr Birns said: “The FCO travel guidance advising against ‘all but essential’ travel to the largest tourism markets in Europe, plus subsequent quarantine measures, will continue to slow the aviation industry recovery. Along with Spain and Portugal, we now see the likes of France, Belgium, Malta and The Netherlands recently added to the list, which is having a significant impact on our airlines as, understandably, customers are much less inclined to travel.”
He added “To enable the growth in travel and our economic impact potential to be stimulated again, it is imperative that the UK Government creates the right market conditions for airlines to operate. We need swift clarity on testing initiatives in a similar way to what is happening in other major countries in Europe, which will give the consumers confidence to fly again. Furthermore, it is urgent and critical that the UK Government provides substantial incentives to support the aviation sector, in order to help kick start business, or risk more airlines going out of business and airports starting to close down as a result. There are going to be many suggestions for support over the coming months, but the quickest solution for UK Government to implement would be to immediately suspend Air Passenger Duty for a couple of years.”
Cardiff Airport is owned by the Welsh Government who have been providing loans to the loss-making airport since it bought the site in 2013. It has already utilised the UK Governments Job Retention Scheme to prevent job losses but that scheme is coming to an end.
Combined with the upcoming Winter season, already a quiet period for the airport in normal circumstances, it could be a very bleak Winter for Wales’ national airport and is likely to result in further requests for taxpayer finance.
Mr Birns said that “At the beginning of this global crisis we were able to draw down part of our commercial loan from Welsh Government sooner than planned, which helped with our ability to trade over the Summer season. As the industry faces more and more uncertainty, and as we approach the Winter season, we will remain focused on the long term sustainability of the Airport business.”
Spencer Birns is the interim CEO following the departure of Deb Bowen Rees from the role, although she remains an executive on the board. Having been the Chief Commercial Officer (COO) for the airport for some time he is widely expected to be offered the role permanently.