East Midlands Airport reveals impact of pandemic as its owners call for roadmap to restriction-free travel

  • MAG - owners of East Midlands Airport calls for greater cooperation between governments to track new Covid-19 variants, rather than relying on costly PCR tests
  • MAG urges Government to create a new category for restriction free travel to aid recovery
  • EMA's annual passenger numbers are down over 90%, a year since the aviation industry was placed into near shutdown
Jet 2 on apron

Plotting a path to restriction-free travel is key to the full revival of the UK’s ailing aviation sector, say MAG, owners of East Midlands, Manchester and London Stansted airports.

MAG’s passenger numbers were down 90% during the first 12 months of the coronavirus pandemic. Last financial year, 413,321 passengers used East Midlands Airport, compared with 4,486,162 in the previous year.

Such a roadmap should also be based on greater cooperation between the UK government and its overseas counterparts, to share information about the emergence of new Covid-19 variants of concern and eliminate the need for travellers to take expensive PCR tests on their return.

Currently, the UK Government proposes that all passengers – even those returning from the lowest risk ‘green’ destinations – will have to take a PCR test, so it can gather data that will help with genomic sequencing.

MAG said this could be avoided if governments worked together on sequencing and sharing data on variants.

The testing requirement is part of the Global Travel Taskforce’s ‘traffic light’ framework, announced last week, which categorises countries as red, amber or green based on the risk associated with visiting them. Subject to final confirmation, it is set to come into play on 17th May, the earliest date non-essential travel can resume. The framework should be improved urgently to include a fourth, restriction-free category capitalising on the success of the UK’s world-leading vaccination programme.

The dramatic downturn aviation has experienced was laid bare in MAG’s annual passenger figures, which showed that compared to March 2020, East Midlands Airport served 99.9% fewer passengers in March 2021.

Charlie Cornish, CEO, MAG said: “The UK government is among the first to have set out proposals for a system that enables international travel to resume and should be applauded for taking the lead.

“After more than a year of almost total shutdown – and with so many jobs and so much economic value at stake – it’s really important we get people moving again once it is safe to do so.

“We now need Government to confirm the17th May start date as soon as possible, along with the list of countries that fall into each ‘traffic light’ category”

Under the traffic light system, those returning from green list countries will have to take a test pre-departure and another PCR test within two days of getting back. Those returning from amber list countries are also required to self-isolate for 10 days and take an extra PCR test, while those coming back from red list countries have to book a government-approved hotel quarantine package.

Mr Cornish added: “But the price tag attached to testing will hold back the recovery and hinder the sector’s ability to power the UK’s economic revival as a whole.”

“The requirement to complete a PCR test on return from even the safest countries adds potentially unnecessary cost and the Government’s attention must now turn to finding smarter and more affordable ways to manage the risk posed by new variants of concern.

“This should be achieved by forging ever-closer partnerships with key markets and developing transparent ways of sharing data into these variants so they can be effectively contained.

“Where we can trust data from other countries, forcing people to spend money on expensive PCR tests, to obtain the very same information, would represent a colossal waste of everyone’s money.

“COVID-19 is a global problem and requires a coordinated international response, not just in bringing the pandemic under control, but in developing solutions to enable a return to restriction-free travel between countries where there is a lower level of risk.

“The Government should also be looking to the UK’s world-leading vaccination programme as a means to remove further barriers to travel to as many destinations as possible.

“Only by setting ourselves on a course back to restriction-free travel now will the aviation industry find itself on a road to full recovery, unlocking the wider-ranging economic benefits that brings.”

East Midlands Airport passenger and cargo performance year ending 31 March 2021

Rolling 12-month total to Mar-21413,321
12-month total % change year on year-90.8%
March 2021 total71
March 2020 total106,529
March 2021 % change year on year-99.9%
March 2021 total tonnes40,908
March 2021 % change year on year+29.4%