Bristol Airport chief warns failure to introduce passenger Covid testing is ‘suffocating’ industry

September 11, 2020

The boss of Bristol Airport today joined calls for urgent government action to avoid further damage to the aviation and airport sector.

Bristol Airport chief executive Dave Lees said he was hugely disappointed that ministers had not given the go-ahead for Covid-19 testing for passengers arriving at airports. 

As a result, the already-struggling industry was being ‘suffocated’, he said, leaving UK airports like Bristol were now in a weaker position than those on mainland Europe.

This, in turn, could lead to fewer international connections and so harm the UK’s trading role in the world just as Brexit was taking effect.

Mr Lees, pictured, is among more than a dozen airport chiefs to put their name to a letter to the Prime Minister from the Airport Owners Association (AOA) seeking action over testing. They argue that without its introduction, the already-beleaguered sector would be damaged further.

Bristol is the UK’s ninth busiest and England’s third largest regional airport. Last year it handled around 9m passengers – a number originally expected to nudge the 10m mark this year.

It recently said it did not expect passenger numbers to recover for at least three years. 

That coincided with the announcement of nearly 250 job losses at the airport, including 76 directly employed staff and 176 by aircraft handling firm Swissport.

Mr Lees today said he welcomed the government’s move towards a fully regionalised quarantine policy based on assessed health risk factors and infection rates, but added: “It is hugely disappointing that government have not addressed the core issue of introducing a testing regime for arriving customers at airports.”

He continued: “As an industry we need government to urgently accelerate a testing regime for arriving customers into the UK which would safeguard public health, help to reduce the quarantine period, remove uncertainty and allow businesses and passengers to make informed travel choices.

“This decision would form part of the solution to give customers confidence and one that is also scientifically sound to protect the health and safety of our customers and staff which is our number one priority, whilst protecting against further job losses in the industry which now seem inevitable under the current government blanket quarantine scheme and the lack of support to aviation.

“Without action the government is suffocating an already struggling aviation and airports sector and our great country will find itself in a weaker position than its European neighbours, with reduced international connectivity. 

“This is surely a risk too great for our island nation which depends on connectivity to succeed in a fiercely competitive post-Brexit world.”

In the letter to Boris Johnson, the AOA and airport bosses point out that the UK’s airports had been effectively shutdown to commercial traffic since March and so action was needed to prevent “catastrophic job losses in the sector”.

The letter continues: “Despite the cautious lifting of lockdown during the summer months, passengers, and hence revenue, have not returned to any significant degree.

“This situation has been exacerbated and prolonged by the blunt policy instruments imposed on the sector by the government. These tools include the blanket quarantine introduced in June, the poor execution of which has decimated consumer confidence in the industry’s critical summer period.”

The letter also called on the government to provide financial support to UK airports in the way that European nations such as Germany, France and Norway had.

They “stood behind their national industries and supported their airports and airlines”, by, for example, underwriting airport losses for a period, the letter says.

Comments are closed.


Reach tens of thousands of senior business people across Bristol for just £120 a month. Email for more information.