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UK to give airports aid after COVID-19 rules tightened

UK to give airports aid after COVID-19 rules tightened

Passengers are seen at BA check-in desks at Heathrow Airport, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), London, Britain January 15, 2021. REUTERS/Matthew Childs

LONDON: Britain's government said on Saturday (Jan 16) it would give financial aid to airports before the end of March, after the industry called for urgent support as tighter COVID-19 rules for international travellers start on Monday.

Aviation minister Robert Courts said the government would launch a new support programme this month.

"The Airport and Ground Operations Support Scheme will help airports reduce their costs and we will be aiming to provide grants before the end of this financial year," he announced on social media, adding that more details would follow soon.

From 0400 GMT on Monday, all travellers to Britain must have a recent negative COVID-19 test and be prepared to quarantine at home for 10 days on arrival.

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Britain's current lockdowns ban most international travel, meaning that airline schedules are currently minimal. But the withdrawal of any quarantine-free travel will be a further blow for the industry.

The latest restrictions were prompted in part by a third wave of the disease that has caused record daily death tolls in Britain, as well as concern about a new coronavirus variant discovered in Brazil.

London's second-largest airport, Gatwick, said the support would help preserve jobs at a time when it had suffered a large reduction in passenger numbers.

Karen Dee, chief executive of Britain's Airport Operators Association, said before the announcement that the government needed to go beyond existing support that includes a temporary exemption from local property taxes.

Relief from regulatory, policing and air traffic control costs would help, she added.

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Courts did not mention any support for airlines, which have benefited from general government furlough programmes but have received little direct assistance.

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of industry body Airlines UK, called for plans to relax travel rules by Easter, before the peak spring and summer holiday period.

"Airlines have been staying in business by taking on billions of pounds of debt which will need to be paid back," he said. 

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