Heathrow boss warns of BA-style mass redundancies

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John Holland-Kaye urges UK to take lead in developing global safety measures for air travel

Heathrow airport has warned that it may soon follow British Airways in announcing mass redundancies unless the government restores confidence by planning for how flying could restart.

The chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, said physical distancing measures could not work in airports and common international standards for health controls were needed, such as temperature screening at the entrance to airports and the wearing of face masks throughout the process to ensure a low risk of transmission.

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World news | The Guardian

Heathrow airport has warned that it may soon follow British Airways in announcing mass redundancies unless the government restores confidence by planning for how flying could restart.

The chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, said physical distancing measures could not work in airports and common international standards for health controls were needed, such as temperature screening at the entrance to airports and the wearing of face masks throughout the process to ensure a low risk of transmission.

Passenger numbers at the UK’s largest airport fell by 97% in April, and Holland-Kaye urged the government to take a lead in developing a global agreement for new measures.

He said while forward bookings implied there was still “massive demand for travel”, it was vital to plan ahead.

“If we don’t do that work now, the UK economy will not get back on its feet as quickly as it should. We must have a package of measures that does not involve social distancing … It is impossible for transport, let alone aviation … You need a queue a kilometre long for one plane with 450 people, if you need social distancing – the problem isn’t the plane it’s the airport,” he said.

“We want to make sure that only people with a low risk of infection are travelling. That’s likely to include some form of temperature screening when you come into the airport.”

Holland-Kaye said it would become normal for people to wear face masks and more parts of the airport process could be automated to reduce contact between passengers and staff.

But he warned that without government planning, to ensure confidence that flying would restart, there would be widespread layoffs.

Heathrow has already made a third of managers, about 500 people, redundant. He said many companies had been holding back on job cuts because of the furlough scheme but “aviation need more than that or it will be the last sector out of the crisis. BA’s announcement [of 12,000 redundancies] is just the first of many to go down the path – and we may follow.”

There was a striking difference between the UK and how most countries had moved to protect airlines and airports, Holland-Kaye said, and although Heathrow – backed by sovereign wealth funds – did not need state support, the sector needed it. He said business rates at Heathrow were “now higher than our entire revenue”.

Meanwhile, he called for any state aid for airlines to be linked to environmental targets. “There should be an obligation to get to net-zero as soon as possible and that should apply to aviation,” Holland-Kaye said.

“There should be a commitment to the use of sustainable aviation fuels, and the government should stimulate production of synthetic fuel as a way of helping to reinvigorate the economy.”


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