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Stansted Airport boss calls for 'clear exit plan' from travel restrictions

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The managing director of Stansted Airport has called on the Government to come up with “a clear exit plan for how to safely restart international travel” in next month’s Budget.

Steve Griffiths is also calling for additional Covid-19 support from Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak until flight schedules can safely resume.

His comments came in a report to the Stansted Airport Consultative Committee (STACC) as part of an online meeting of the watchdog's members on Wednesday (Feb 17).

Stansted Airport. New MD Steve Griffiths. .Pic: Vikki Lince. (44491521)
Stansted Airport. New MD Steve Griffiths. .Pic: Vikki Lince. (44491521)

Mr Griffiths told the panel: “Airports around the world have seen massive reductions in traffic, and in the UK each period of national lockdown has seen only 1-2% of normal passenger numbers. This has again proven true in the first weeks of 2021.

“Even with these very low traffic levels, the airport has remained open and operational throughout the pandemic and has played an important role supporting repatriation flights, helping inbound key workers and utilising the cargo facilities to provide a key supply route for the NHS.”

The terminal is operating on reduced opening hours, from 5am to 7pm daily, and this overnight closure is expected to continue until at least mid-March. The earliest departing flight is at 6.45am and the last at 4.30pm.

Grounded aircraft at Stansted Airport (44491581)
Grounded aircraft at Stansted Airport (44491581)

While the Stansted Express train service is still running, coach services to and from the airport have been cancelled because of the coronavirus crisis and most of the terminal's shops and restaurants have shut; WHSmith, Boots, Pret and Costa are providing skeleton services.

Mr Griffiths said: “The financial impact on the business has been significant and MAG [Manchester Airports Group] has implemented a range of measures to mitigate losses as much as possible.”

As a result, 376 roles at the airport have been made redundant as part of a 900-strong job loss programme across MAG and the operator has deferred all non-essential spending and investment.

Many staff remain on furlough and all employees have had their salaries cut by 10% until April. Shareholders have provided £300m extra funding.

Stansted Airport. Preparations for the 'New Normal' during and after the pandemic. .Departures Lounge. The only business open is Boots. .Pic: Vikki Lince. (44491559)
Stansted Airport. Preparations for the 'New Normal' during and after the pandemic. .Departures Lounge. The only business open is Boots. .Pic: Vikki Lince. (44491559)

Mr Griffiths said: “We've been disappointed that the Government has not recognised the severe impacts of the pandemic on the aviation sector and has provided only minimal direct support to airports. For most of 2020 there was no specific support for airports beyond the economy-wide relief measures such as the Job Retention Scheme.

"In November, the Government announced a new scheme to provide support for airports’ fixed costs. This support is limited to up to £8m per airport and tied to the airport’s 2020-21 business rates liability. For Stansted, this is expected to cover approximately half of the annual rates bill.

“This targeted support for airports is welcome, but it covers only a small fraction of an airport’s annual operating costs, many of which are fixed and controlled by the Government, such as policing or air traffic control.

Stansted Airport terminal (44491571)
Stansted Airport terminal (44491571)

“Working with MAG’s other airports, we have been campaigning for the Government to provide additional support that truly recognises the impact on the sector.

“We will of course continue to support any measures the Government needs to take to safeguard public health, but we believe that this should be accompanied by a clear exit plan for how to safely restart international travel as well as a support package to protect airports until that restart is possible. We have asked the Government to set this out in and around the Budget speech due on March 3.”

Meanwhile, the airport is implementing pre-departure testing and gearing up to ensure any arrivals from high-risk countries undertake enforced quarantine in dedicated hotel facilities.

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