Aviation industry needs sight of clearer skies to navigate out of Covid-19

Widespread vaccination among the UK population is not doing much to help the beleaguered aviation industry get back to clearer skies.

The pandemic has hit aviation hard - and how it recovers from Covid-19 remains far from clear. PIC: Lisa Ferguson.
The pandemic has hit aviation hard - and how it recovers from Covid-19 remains far from clear. PIC: Lisa Ferguson.

Readers who have attempted travel recently will have seen how grim things appear.

Airport terminals - teeming, 18 months ago - are near silent today. Many of their shops and restaurants are shuttered. Bars - previously packed supplying every occasion from liquid breakfasts for holidaymakers to nightcaps for exhausted businesspeople - are quiet.

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It's hard to imagine anyone is making money, either from the quarter-filled shopping concourses or the sparsely-filled aircraft. A recent report from McKinsey, the management consulting firm, reported that global aviation industry revenues were $328 billion in 2020 - only 40% of the 2019 total. It will take years to recover.

If, indeed, recovery is possible. There is concern this crisis may have profound impacts on our willingness to travel, over the longer run. During the financial crisis, for instance, we maybe wanted to fly but couldn't afford to. Today, we're scared to fly: worried for our health, or that a shift in government policy might leave us facing quarantine.

It is in this context that airlines and a major airport operator are seeking to challenge UK travel restrictions which they say have caused damage and confusion, by preventing both consumers and the industry from being able to plan ahead with confidence.

It is hard not to have some sympathy with the businesses' plight. The UK's locked-down approach sits in contrast, both to its relaxed attitude to global travel earlier in the crisis, and to that across the EU today. While, across the continent, restrictions are being relaxed, the UK seems reluctant to place its faith in vaccines' protection.

Given our current stance, one unanswered question lies at the heart of the UK strategy: if we believe the risk of important new variants are big enough to effectively close down entire industries and significantly curtail freedom of travel, even after double vaccination, what exactly is the path out of this nightmare?

Industry, as much as individuals, need to see how normality might return.

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