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Travel restrictions ground profits for Stansted Airport's operator

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Stansted Airport's operator has called on the Government to carry out an urgent review of its new travel restrictions as its profits turn to losses.

The plea came as MAG (Manchester Airports Group) released financial results highlighting the impact of Covid-19 travel rules.

Figures for the first six months of its financial year, from April 1 to September 30, showed passenger numbers remained 82% down on pre-pandemic levels, despite initial early signs of recovery over the summer.

Stansted Airport terminal (53617294)
Stansted Airport terminal (53617294)

Overall, MAG reported a loss before interest and tax of £75.7m for the six months. By contrast, the group returned a £172.7m profit for the same period in 2019.

Its airports welcomed just 6.6 million passengers between April and September compared with 36.4m in the same period in 2019.

While the group, which also owns and operates Manchester and East Midlands airports, saw year-on-year revenues increase by £64.9m, the figure was down 70% on the same period two years ago.

MAG chief executive Charlie Cornish (53617306)
MAG chief executive Charlie Cornish (53617306)

Charlie Cornish, MAG chief executive, said: "The first half of this year tells a story of how travel restrictions held back the recovery of UK aviation, especially when compared to the rest of Europe.

"As restrictions eased, passenger numbers grew steadily at all three of our airports. The reintroduction of costly and inconvenient travel testing requirements has created further uncertainty and delayed our recovery.

"The Government has talked openly about the damage these restrictions cause to the travel sector, but neither they nor the Opposition has recognised the critical need to support our industry in return.

"As a business, we will always do our part to protect public health, but we also need these temporary measures to be removed when they are no longer worthwhile.

Stansted served 3.5 million passengers from April to September, up 59% on the corresponding six-month period last year
Stansted served 3.5 million passengers from April to September, up 59% on the corresponding six-month period last year

"These restrictions may have slowed the arrival of Omicron, but it is now transmitting in the community and the Government needs urgently to review whether the rapidly reducing benefit of testing justifies the damage it is causing to consumer confidence.

"MAG, and the wider UK travel industry, can be confident of a strong revival when travel restrictions are lifted. All we are asking for is to be able to plan for our recovery and to be given the same chance that every other sector was given through the domestic roadmap earlier this year."

MAG's half-year results were released after travel restrictions were reintroduced for passengers following identification of the Omicron variant.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid. Picture: PA (53617335)
Health Secretary Sajid Javid. Picture: PA (53617335)

Initial data suggest passenger numbers across the group were down by 10-20% following the introduction of Day 2 PCR tests, which was announced on November 27, and that this impact has increased further following the introduction of pre-departure tests this week.

MAG welcomed Health Secretary Sajid Javid's acknowledgement on Wednesday December 8 that there was less need to have any form of travel restrictions in place once Omicron becomes the dominant variant, and urged the Government to complete its review of these measures as soon as possible.

MAG welcomed 2.7 million passengers in October, which was the first month since February 2020 in which Stansted and Manchester airports served over a million passengers each. Passenger volumes in November were at 58% of November 2019, the closest they have been to pre-pandemic levels.

Stansted served 3.5 million passengers between April and September, up 59% on last year. The airport's recovery was the fastest among major UK airports. According to CAA data, in September the UK's fourth largest airport had seen 43% of its pre-pandemic traffic return.

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