UK's Gatwick Airport sees travel boost from new COVID-19 testing rules

UK's Gatwick Airport sees travel boost from new COVID-19 testing rules

A staff member is seen at the Express Test COVID-19 testing facility at Gatwick airport, amid the c
A staff member is seen at the Express Test COVID-19 testing facility at Gatwick airport, on Nov 27, 2020. (Photo: REUTERS/Peter Nicholls)

LONDON: The boss of Britain's Gatwick Airport said the introduction of shorter quarantine times from mid-December was boosting travel, and that the combination of testing and a COVID-19 vaccine means he is optimistic holidays can restart next year.

Gatwick, Britain's second busiest airport, is opening a new COVID-19 testing facility on Monday (Nov 30), offering passengers discounted tests. 

CEO Stewart Wingate hopes by making it easier and cheaper to get a test, more people will travel.

READ: England to shorten quarantine for incoming passengers with COVID-19 testing

From mid-December, travellers arriving in England will have to quarantine for five days instead of 14 if they have a negative test, a rule change which Wingate said is helping.

"We are seeing already an uptick in flights, so we should expect to see about 100 flights per day by the time we get to the middle of December, and across the Christmas period," he told Reuters in an interview.

A passenger sits in an almost empty check-in area at Gatwick Airport, amid the coronavirus disease
A passenger sits in an almost empty check-in area at Gatwick Airport, on Nov 27, 2020. (Photo: REUTERS/Peter Nicholls)

The pandemic has battered the aviation industry, leaving Gatwick particularly exposed as airlines such as British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have prioritised flights from Heathrow, Britain's no.1 airport to the west of London.

During England's latest lockdown in November, Gatwick, easyJet's biggest base, had about four flights a day, a startling drop from 600 flights a day this time last year. Some of Gatwick's airlines, such as Norwegian, are fighting for survival.

Wingate, who has had to axe 45 per cent of Gatwick's staff during the pandemic, forecast a travel recovery next summer, when he expected the airport's airlines to be flying between 60 per cent and 70 per cent of their 2019 capacity.

"I expect once the vaccinations roll out and the testing is rolled out, we should expect to see quite a strong performance in the market next summer," he said.

READ: Christmas getaways will need careful planning: UK minister

The testing site in a long-stay car park at Gatwick will initially be able to test up to 500 people per day, but this could be ramped up to 2,000 a day, and then 4,000 a day given sufficient demand, according to testing company ExpressTest.

Wingate said demand for tests at the site was "strong" and he hoped ExpressTest would roll out more sites. They will cost Gatwick passengers £60 (US$80), and anyone else £100.

Wingate said Gatwick, 30 miles south of London, also remained attractive to airlines. Hungarian airline Wizz Air has publicly said it wants to expand at Gatwick, and Wingate said others did too.

"Ryanair are quite keen to grow as well at the airport," he said.

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Source: Reuters/ga

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