Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has accused the government of “mismanagement” as he criticised plans for air passenger testing which will shorten quarantine periods.
From the middle of next month, travellers arriving from countries with high infection rates will be able to shorten their time in quarantine, currently 14 days, if they test negative for COVID-19 on the fifth day.
The roll-out of the tests – which will each cost between £65 and £120 and will have to be paid for by passengers themselves – is designed to boost travel without adding to strain on the NHS.
But Mr O’Leary told Sky News that Transport Secretary Grant Shapps had failed to listen to industry over the plans, arguing it would be simpler for passengers to be tested a couple of days prior to departure instead.
He said Mr Shapps “doesn’t talk sufficiently to the industry and take on board our views”.
Mr O’Leary told Sky’s Ian King Live: “If people are willing to get their tests within the 72 hours prior to their departure or prior to arriving in the UK, it’s a much simpler, much easier way of ensuring that those people who fly in, particularly on short haul flights, are COVID-free.”
Without this, passengers would already be in the country and on the transport system without having been tested, he argued.
“It’s more of the mismanagement of COVID by the [Boris] Johnson government,” he said.
“If they just introduced simple and effective measures they’d be an awful lot better off.”
The aviation sector has been one of the worst hit by the crisis, with airports deserted and thousands of jobs axed thanks to travel restrictions designed to curb the spread of the virus.
Mr O’Leary voiced optimism on the cost of tests coming down, and hopes that vaccines will be widely available by Easter next year so that “things will return to much more like normal”.
He said he expected passenger levels at 60-70% of 2019 levels by the summer.
The airline boss reiterated his criticism that the aviation sector is not being given enough support by the UK government and his demand for a suspension of air passenger duty (APD) on flights.
“We are the orphan of UK government policy, nothing has been done to facilitate aviation,” Mr O’Leary said.
“Rishi Sunak has been running around doling out gifts like candies in the sweet shop and yet we still have APD, the highest and most regressive form of tax on air travel that exists in Europe.”
Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye echoed Mr O’Leary’s criticisms on the testing plan.
“It’s better to test people before they travel,” he told Sky News.
“That’s what we have been calling for as the common international standard for getting people flying.”
However, Mr Holland-Kaye said the new rules were still a “good step forward” – helping people travelling for business or to visit friends and relatives to do so with more confidence.
“Even some people who need to go on holiday for some winter sun will be able to do so knowing that they won’t have to worry about whether their kids will be able to go back to school when it starts again,” he added.
But the Heathrow boss appeared to brush off any UK version of an idea floated by Alan Joyce, the boss of Australian carrier Qantas, that people will need to have had vaccines before they can fly.
He floated the idea in an interview with CNN.
Mr Holland-Kaye said the comments reflected the tougher travel rules in Australia.
“Some countries around have just closed their borders completely and won’t be opening them again until the entire country has been vaccinated,” he said.
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