With airline companies continuing to struggle to regain business due to the on-going coronavirus restrictions, many have started demanding solutions to restart flight paths, including a trial to test passengers on flights between New York and London.
CEOs of Airlines For America, Heathrow Airport, Virgin Atlantic and Airlines UK believe that some sort of “passenger testing solutions in air travel” between the two cities must be implemented by the end of September so they can start to “gather real world evidence and data”.
The sentiments, in a letter from the companies, also stated that they “believe that in the immediate absence of a vaccine, testing of passengers in aviation provides the best and most effective frontline defence.”
In the 12 months before coronavirus restrictions were put in place the flight path between New York’s JFK airport and London Heathrow had seen over 14,000 flights, meaning the route has become the ‘busiest international long-haul route in the world.’
Yet with restrictions in place Britons are not allowed to visit America directly from the UK. The UK have placed a two week self-isolation period on anyone who enters the country from America as well as many other countries around the world such as Spain and Portugal.
Senior vice president at Airlines For America, Sharon Pinkerton, said, “One of the key steps to recovery is setting up an international pilot programme between the US and either Europe, Canada, somewhere in the Pacific.”
Pinkerton also believes that by implementing such a scheme some international quarantines could be removed completely.
Coronavirus has had a grip on the world since its first case was reported in Wuhan, China over 8 months ago and, at the time of writing, has seen 26,475,568 positive cases worldwide with 873,285 deaths. America has so far seen the most number of people affected with 6,335,244 positive cases and 191,058 fatalities, equal to 19,120 cases per one million population and 577 fatalities per one million population. The UK has had 340,411 positive cases with 41,527 fatalities, the equivalent of 5,010 positive cases for one million population and 611 deaths per one million population.
In the early days of the virus New York quickly became the epicenter of cases in America however tough restrictions has seen the rate of infection reduce to one of the lowest throughout the country. The area has been trying to keep those figures low by implementing travel restrictions not just on international travelers but also those from other, more infected, states.
While the US Transportation Department has said it “stands ready to support the safe resumption of international flights between the US and Europe” the proposed testing could be too little too late for many airline companies.
Last week the announcement came that airline companies, including Qantas and Delta, were preparing to reduce their workforce when the current CARES Act expires and Virgin Atlantic Airways has announced they too are looking to cut around 1,000 positions.
The news has come as a surprise to many as it came shortly after the airline received a rescue deal worth around $1.6bn to help the company continue to operate as they struggle to cope with the low demand for air travel, both domestic and international due to the pandemic.
The loss of jobs will have a big impact on the company as they had already cut 3,150 positions after they closed their base at London Gatwick Airport earlier in the year. Although the news is as yet to be officially confirmed it means that the number of people working for the airline will have reduced by nearly 50 per cent from the 10,000 staff employed before the pandemic hit.
Part of the rescue plan is a loan from hedge fund Davidson Kempner Capital Management valued at around $225m and the deal was thought to be enough to rebuild the company following a year which has seen the airline industry grounded. Yet with the chief executive Shai Weiss continuing to look at job cuts it is clear that airline companies are still unsure of which way the industry will go over the next 12 months.
Sir Richard Branson, who founded the airline in 1984, had originally asked the UK government for state support near the beginning of the crisis but was denied by the Treasury. With Branson admitting he did not think the airline could survive without financial support they were forced to seek a private sector to bail them out.
Like America, the UK has seen their airline companies reduce their workforce with easyJet, Ryanair and British Airways all announcing redundancies.
Virgin Atlantic confirmed their financial package with a statement saying, “Achieving this significant milestone puts Virgin Atlantic in a position to rebuild its balance sheet, restore customer confidence and welcome passengers back to the skies, safely, as soon as they are ready to travel.”
While many at Virgin Atlantic are happy the deal has gone through it was not enough for Virgin Australia who fell into insolvency proceedings at the beginning of the pandemic.