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Branson hits out at air bridge failure in 'forthright' call with Matt Hancock

Ben Gartside
·1-min read
Sir Richard Branson
Sir Richard Branson

Sir Richard Branson has lashed out over the Government's failings on airport testing in a heated conference call with Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

The Virgin Atlantic founder said the failure to restore flights between London and New York has left the airline industry facing a bleak autumn and winter, according to sources on the call between Mr Hancock and business leaders.

Sir Richard is understood to have launched a blistering five-minute critique of ministers' Covid policy. One listener said the British Virgin Islands-based billionaire was "forthright" in his views during the discussion on Wednesday last week.

Virgin Atlantic announced 1,000 job losses earlier this month and was forced into a £1.2bn rescue deal after the pandemic struck.

Virgin Atlantic timeline
Virgin Atlantic timeline

Sir Richard was particularly unhappy that travel to the US is still heavily restricted, and called for a link to New York to be restored now that the city has very low Covid case rates.

He also took Mr Hancock to task over the lack of passenger testing at airports, as many other countries have done.

Virgin Atlantic signed a letter calling for the implementation of airport testing two weeks ago. Other signatories included lobby groups Airlines for America and Airlines UK as well as Heathrow.

A new report commissioned by Heathrow and British Airways owner IAG said the lack of agreement was costing the economy £3.5bn while tourists and business travellers were unable to fly to and from the US.

The report was endorsed by business figures including Sir Martin Sorrell, British Land chief executive Simon Carter and Travelsafe's Nicholas Lambe.

The Department for Health and a spokesman for Sir Richard declined to comment.