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Coronavirus: British Airways owner warns ‘nothing positive’ for airlines in Johnson speech

Edmund Heaphy
·Finance and news reporter
·3-min read
British Airways planes parked at Terminal 5 Heathrow airport in London
British Airways planes parked at Heathrow airport. (Frank Augstein/AP)

There was “nothing positive” for airlines in prime minister Boris Johnson’s speech on easing the UK’s coronavirus restrictions, according to Willie Walsh, the chief executive of British Airways owner IAG (IAG.L).

The announcement of a 14-day quarantine period for air travellers is “definitely going to make it worse,” Walsh said on Monday.

“There’s nothing positive in anything that I heard the prime minister say yesterday,” the airline boss told the Transport Select Committee of the House of Commons.

Walsh noted that the group, which also owns Iberia and Aer Lingus, had been hoping to resume flying “on a pretty significant basis” from July.

“I think we’d have to review that based on what the prime minister said yesterday,” Walsh warned.

Johnson on Sunday (10 May) confirmed that visitors to the UK will face the quarantine period in a bid to stop the spread of coronavirus.

READ MORE: Minister says return to work only applies from Wednesday

Though he gave no details of when the restrictions are due to take effect, they are expected to come into force at the end of this month.

The quarantine period will mean that travellers arriving in the UK by air from anywhere besides France or Ireland will have to self-isolate at a private residence.

“Despite the fact that there had been some rumours about this quarantine period, I don’t think anybody believed that the UK government would actually implement it if they were serious about getting the economy moving again,” Walsh told the committee.

Industry body Airlines UK warned on Monday that the policy needed “a credible exit plan” and should be reviewed on a weekly basis.

Walsh complained that he did not understand why the UK was not implementing a ban for those who come to the UK by means of transport other than air travel.

“I don’t understand that but maybe the prime minister will be able to clarify the science behind that. It seems strange to me,” he said.

Walsh said that the group’s flight capacity would likely be “pretty minimal” while the quarantine period is in effect.

Airlines are confronting an unprecedented crisis in coronavirus, and analysts have warned that many more may collapse under the weight of the collapse in demand from travellers.

READ MORE: Airline stocks slide on UK quarantine chaos

IAG warned last week that it would be 2023 before things returned to normal. Shares in the group fell by almost 5% on Monday.

“It won’t be before 2023 that we get back to the levels of flying that we saw last year in 2019,” Walsh said on Monday.

Whether that is possible, Walsh said, depended not just on the duration of the coronavirus crisis, but the global recession that is expected to follow.

“There are some people predicting that it won’t be until 2026, so this will be something that we will continue to assess as we monitor the global demand,” he said.