Gatwick boss: simplify Covid travel tests or UK will lag behind rest of Europe

Airport hit by £245m loss as passenger numbers fall to 569,000 in first six months of 2021

The chief executive of Gatwick airport has urged the government to simplify Covid testing requirements for travellers or continue to see the UK lag behind the recovery in the rest of Europe and the US, as Britain’s second busiest air hub reported a £245m loss in the first half.

Stewart Wingate blamed a collapse in passenger demand and government restrictions. In the first six months of the year, passenger numbers at Gatwick plunged to 569,000, from 7.5 million in the first half of last year, and 22 million in the first six months of 2019, before the pandemic.

The airport operator called on the government to scrap coronavirus testing requirements for travellers arriving from “green” countries and for those double-vaccinated passengers from “amber” destinations. For unvaccinated travellers from amber territories, Gatwick said a single lateral flow test should suffice.

“UK travel recovery should not be allowed to lag behind the US and Europe,” Wingate said. “In the UK we are all emerging to enjoy more freedoms due to our world-class vaccination programme. However, we are in danger of squandering the advantage that vaccination programme has afforded us for international travel.”

Gatwick said that in France and Germany travel bookings are on average more than 50% of pre-pandemic levels, compared with 16% in the UK.

Gatwick said it had £779m of liquidity, including £624m in cash, which was “sufficient to meet operating cashflows, planned investment levels and interest payments for at least the next 12 months”.

However, the company also said it had held successful discussions with its banks and bond holders to “address forecast breaches in financial covenants”.

Gatwick said a reduction in capital expenditure plans meant the deferral or cancellation of £570m of investment originally planned for the three years to 2022. Operating costs have been cut by almost 35% and staff costs are down 46% because of a restructuring, including cutting 600 staff.

Wingate called the first half of the year “the most challenging six months the airport has witnessed”. But, he said: “I remain certain that Gatwick will recover and as a business we are financially and operationally well placed for that.”

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Last month, Heathrow called on the UK government to open up travel for fully vaccinated passengers as it disclosed that losses caused by the pandemic had reached almost £3bn.

The UK’s biggest airport, which said that losses in the first half of the year hit £868m, said passenger demand was beginning to increase. However, Heathrow reported that fewer than 4 million people travelled through its terminals in the first half of the year, a number that would have been surpassed in only 18 days of pre-pandemic traffic.

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Mark Sweney

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