UK Business Aviation Fails To Win Quarantine Exemption

 - June 5, 2020, 7:05 AM
Business aviation traffic at UK airports such as London Biggin Hill Airport is expected to be severely curtailed by Covid-19 quarantine requirements starting on June 8. [Photo: London Biggin Hill Airport/Mike Rivett]

This story is part of AIN's continuing coverage of the impact of the coronavirus on aviation.

The UK government has denied a request from the British Business and General Aviation Association (BBGA) to exempt private aviation movements from the 14-day quarantine requirement that begins on June 8. In a meeting on June 4, the trade group tried to persuade Home Secretary Priti Patel that the country’s business aviation industry would be able to implement measures such as rapid Covid-19 testing of passengers and crew and creating so-called "sanitary travel capsules" through rigorous social distancing for the relatively small number of people using this transportation mode.

“No consideration is being given [by the government] to business aviation because all the effort is going into making the [quarantine] process work for scheduled airlines and large airports,” BBGA chief executive Marc Bailey told AIN. He acknowledged that the quarantine will take effect for at least an initial three-week period through June 29, but he held out hope that the industry might be able to win concessions later.

However, Bailey warned that if the new level of travel restrictions are maintained beyond the short term, the business aviation sector could see bankruptcies. “If we have not started to get traffic increasing again towards the end of this year then we will see casualties because companies can’t keep bleeding cash at the current rate for another four or five months,” he predicted.

BBGA surveyed its members, who reported that no more than around 120 passengers per day have been entering the UK over the past week. “This traffic will stop dead from Monday, although there may still be some outbound flights and repatriation trips,” Bailey said.

According to Bailey, business aviation needs to be prepared to deal with the longer-term consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, which is why BBGA is urging the industry to make a commitment to pioneering protective measures such as testing for the virus at airports and maintaining strict social distancing. He believes that the sector is currently better placed than the airlines to provide this level of protection against further spread of the disease and should, therefore, be given more operational latitude by governments.

Based on the meeting with government officials on Thursday, BBGA believes that the Department for Transportation is sympathetic to the aviation industry’s urgent calls to be spared from the quarantine requirement. However, the department appears to have been overruled by the Home Office and public health officials, even though the government has refused to publish what it claims is a solid scientific case for implementing a quarantine 11 weeks after the UK imposed its lockdown rules.

So far, the government has rejected the UK aviation industry’s calls for the country to establish so-called "airbridges" with countries that have satisfactorily reduced rates of Covid-19 infections while insisting that it remains open to this possibility. However, this begs the question as to which countries would accept the UK as an airbridge partner, since—with the exception of the U.S., Brazil, and Russia—all other nations have achieved lower rates of infection.

“We’re facing this as a medium- to long-term issue, because we’re not expecting to see immunization coming quickly and we must be ready to deal with further cycles of lockdowns and quarantines,” Bailey told AIN. “We see the recovery curve [for the aviation industry] as being from around 2023 to 2025. The government can’t save all businesses, but it needs to help us to be constructive in keeping the core structure together.”

Bailey acknowledged that the UK’s self-imposed loss of EASA membership when the Brexit transition period ends on Dec. 31, 2020, has not helped as the country’s aviation sector has struggled to survive Covid-19. “The last thing we need is to be weakened when we leave the European Union,” he said.

However, Bailey sees little prospect of a compromise being reached that might allow the UK to remain closely aligned with EASA standards and market access rules. Like many in the aviation industry, he sees this prospect as having been fatally wounded by wider political disputes, such as fishing rights, in the ongoing, but apparently failing, trade talks between the UK and the EU.

BBGA is also concerned about the future viability of the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which is set to take on a significant regulatory burden with the country’s departure from EASA. The CAA is now facing a major funding shortfall due to falling revenues caused by its inability to conduct industry inspections due to health restrictions and falling levels of flight activity.

“The CAA’s operational costs are not going down, and they have to get revenue from someone,” explained Bailey. “This means that companies are still having to pay for approvals, and this situation isn’t right for anyone. The government needs to step in to fund the CAA for a period to support aviation as a whole.”

From 12:01 a.m. BST on June 8, almost all travelers arriving in the UK will be required to remain under quarantine at a fixed address for 14 days. They will have to complete a registration form before departure for the UK and will be subject to spot checks on arrival and for the duration of the 14-day period, with penalties of up to around $1,200 for non-compliance.

Working aircrew are one of the groups exempt from the quarantine requirements. However, maintenance staff and pilots repositioning or traveling to conduct training are not exempt.

BBGA has issued guidance as to how business aviation operators can comply with the UK quarantine requirements, including how to access the required forms. The association has also produced a video in which UK industry leaders discuss how business aviation is dealing with Covid-19 restrictions, and specifically how the sector could provide protection in less disruptive ways.