US airline chiefs add to pressure for transatlantic travel to restart

Major US airlines have weighed in alongside UK carriers to urge the reopening of transatlantic travel, calling on governments in Washington and London to arrange a summit as soon as possible.

The airlines said that safely reopening borders was essential for economic recovery and asked the nations’ leaders to meet before the G7, and take a decision with sufficient time for airlines to plan and restart services.

In a letter to transport secretaries of state in the US and UK, the chief executives of American, Delta, United and Jet Blue, along with those of British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, said that the levels of vaccination in each country meant that the lucrative routes, flown by 22 million passengers in 2019, could be safely reopened.

They said: “We are confident that the aviation industry possesses the right tools, based on data and science, to enable a safe and meaningful restart to transatlantic travel. US and UK citizens would benefit from the significant testing capability and the successful trials of digital applications to verify health credentials.”

The latest call follows a letter from the UK aviation industry last week that urged the government to restart transatlantic travel. However, airlines were left disappointed by the UK’s announcement of a “green list” on Friday which limited quarantine-free travel to the UK to just a handful of countries, and did not include the US.

The US still bars EU and UK citizens from entry, ordered by presidential decree early on in the pandemic.

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Meanwhile, BA’s owner IAG, which used to generate a large proportion of profits on transatlantic routes, announced an €825m (£708m) bond issue as it continued to raise funds to help ride out pandemic losses running at around €100m a week.

The group last week reported it had €10.5bn in liquidity, after a string of refinancing moves, including a €2.7bn rights issue, €1.5bn in government-supported loans, a £2bn UK Export Finance loan and €2.6bn in aircraft sale and leaseback transactions.

Heathrow airport, which revealed passenger numbers for April were down 92% on the same month in 2019, reiterated calls to loosen travel rules. Its chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, said: “The government’s green list is very welcome, but they need to expand it massively in the next few weeks to include other low-risk markets such as the United States, and remove the need for fully vaccinated passengers to take two expensive PCR tests.”


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