Holidays: USA air bridge possible ‘by Thanksgiving’ – Heathrow CEO on covid testing latest

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Heathrow Airport has today reported losses of £1.5billion for the year to date and an 84 percent fall in passenger numbers for the three months to September. CEO John Holland-Kaye has blamed a lack in coronavirus testing as Heathrow is overtaken as Europe’s busiest airport for the first time by Paris airport Charles de Gaulle. The news serves as a “clarion call” for action to be taken by the UK government, Holland-Kaye told BBC this morning.

“The answer is to move to testing for people in travel, as many other countries have done,” the airport boss said.

“We don’t yet have testing in place that will allow people to come to the UK and reduce the amount of quarantine that they have to go through, so for the vast majority of countries you still have to quarantine for 14 days.”

Holland-Kaye wants to test people “preferably before they even get on the plane to make sure they don’t have COVID. Then, when they get to the UK, they can go about their business without having to go into quarantine.”

He explained that Heathrow is looking at a pre-departure testing pilot between London and New York, USA which is the busiest route in the world.

“You take a test (maybe three days before you fly), you keep yourself isolated, you then have a quick test at the airport, either on arrival or departure to confirm you don’t have COVID, and then you can travel in confidence,” he explained.

“It’s those kinds of measures needed to get the UK economy moving again and save millions of jobs in this country.”

For now, the burden of paying for these tests lie on the passenger.

“The plan is that they are paid for by the individual and they’d be delivered privately so they’re not competing with the testing needed for NHS and care workers,” clarified Holland-Kaye.

“Increasingly, of course, we’re moving on from the PCR tests that are very expensive and take 24 hours to get results to much quicker tests that have a similar level of accuracy that can be delivered within an hour and cost far less than the PCR test.”

The Heathrow CEO also revealed he was hopeful an air bridge between the UK and USA could be established in time for Thanksgiving.

“We can we can absolutely do that,” Holland-Kaye said. “There is momentum on the US side – they want to start opening their borders again; I think there’s a preference that the UK should be the first market to open up again.

“We know the UK Government is keen to do to that.”

However, the aviation boss warned that if the UK isn’t careful it could yet again find itself overtaken by European competitors.

“If it isn’t the UK, it will be France or Germany, or some other country,” said Holland-Kaye.

“And that just shows that we are in a bit of a competition with some of those other countries who are more progressive on testing – the French have been testing since back in June, and they really recognise aviation is vital to their economy so they are really focussing on getting that up and running.

“That has allowed, for the first time ever, Paris Charles to Gaulle to overtake Heathrow as the biggest airport in Europe – that really shows that the French see this as being an economic competition with us in the UK.”

Holland-Kaye cautioned: “As we have now left the EU, it’s really vital for the UK economy in the future that we protect our trading routes, which increasingly are by air, by allowing aviation to restart in a safe way – and testing is the answer.”

If the UK can move to “cheap and quick tests as other countries have done,” it is hoped the costs of travel will not rise too much and that jet-setting “will remain affordable.”

However, the CEO warned that with the travel corridor list chopping and changing, “prices may well go up in the short term,” as was seen when the Canary Islands were added to the ‘safe’ list last week.

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