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It's Time to Take Off: Act Now to Reopen the Transatlantic Corridor

In the Interest of our Economies, We Must Coordinate and Act Now to Reopen the Transatlantic Corridor

By Duncan Edwards, Chief Executive, BritishAmerican Business &

Emanuel Adam, Director of Policy & Trade, BritishAmerican Business

24 August 2020

The health and safety of our citizens is the number one priority as the world deals with the COVID-19 health pandemic. As soon as the impact of COVID-19 became clear, companies in the transatlantic corridor have done everything they can to protect their workers, customers and suppliers while helping to keep our economies running. Moreover, a vast number of transatlantic firms active in the UK and the U.S. have stood up and joined Governments in their efforts to lead our economies through this crisis, and most importantly save lives. Today, these companies are also ready to do their part in helping our economies recover from the crisis.

A crucial element in this recovery is transatlantic air travel. Air travel between the UK and the U.S. reflects what is one of the world’s greatest economic success stories. In normal times, more than 20 million passengers fly between the UK and the U.S. annually. A high proportion of these passengers fly for business: meeting new and existing clients, interviewing and reviewing suppliers, prospecting for deals, to take part in internal company training, or to start a new business. We are proud to represent these companies and businesspeople who sit at the heart of over 2 million jobs, and enormous growth and investment on both sides of the Atlantic.

Yet, as it becomes clear that the risks of COVID-19 will remain a significant part of our daily lives until a vaccine has been developed, approved, and widely used, this economic artery is in danger. In fact, with the U.S. having banned UK citizens from entry and the UK imposing a two-week quarantine on U.S. citizens entering the country, transatlantic travel has been reduced to a fraction of its normal volume. Earlier this year, transatlantic travel was recorded at a mere 20% of capacity in comparison to the same period in 2019.

While digital solutions are widely embraced by our member companies, the limitation put on transatlantic travel will delay projects and lead to missed opportunities; all of which is needed for economic recovery on both sides of the Atlantic. In fact, the current status quo will become unsustainable for businesses, especially Small, and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs), and the carriers flying them very soon. We cannot let this happen.

This is why, in the Interest of our economies, we must now coordinate efforts and action with the ambition to reopen the transatlantic corridor.

We already know that the best solution to achieve this is by having an aviation testing regime in place. COVID-19 testing before departure or at airports will be an effective risk mitigation measure for destinations considered to be at higher risk. It will build up vital confidence and trust with the public and businesses to travel again.

In that regard, we welcome the efforts that are currently being made by major transatlantic airlines, airports such as Heathrow Airport, and sector associations such as the International Air and Transports Association (IATA) and the Board of Airline Representatives in the UK (BAR UK) to offer a feasible, credible and most importantly, safe solution to minimise the time spent in quarantine. It is now important to bring all these efforts together to streamline resources and make a united proposal to Governments.

Government, by the same token, must support industry in their coordinated efforts and help with the quick approval implementation of an agreed solution. Logic suggests that the increased risk from travel between places with similar rates of infection is low and if this is coupled with the kind of test measures that the industry is suggesting, plus mandatory face coverings and aircraft and airport cleansing, the increased risk to either country should be minimal.

It is obvious that implementation of any approved testing structure cannot be done overnight. Therefore, to save time, we also suggest putting the emphasis on implementation of the new testing system that effectively creates a “public health corridor” making it safe to travel across the Atlantic. It would be appropriate to start this regime in the most important transatlantic corridor, London – New York, first and to then expand if where health and testing criteria can be met.

Whatever the solution and approach will be, we need to start now. Because if not now, when? What are the measurable criteria that need to be hit for the UK and U.S. quarantine requirement and the U.S. travel ban to be lifted in the future?

There are businesses and industries for whom this situation is already an existential crisis, the airlines, the airports, businesses built around the ecosystem, and all those who rely on travel to grow their business. For these businesses, action is desperately needed in order to save as many jobs as possible. But there is a wider need to get the corridors open again for the benefit of all who are part of the transatlantic economic success story before trade and investment inevitably starts to decline.

It’s time to take off.

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