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Airbus boss sounds alarm over grounding flights

Alan Tovey
·3-min read
Airbus design for hydrogen powered airline
Airbus design for hydrogen powered airline

Air travel’s “precious role” in modern life is at risk because of coronavirus, according to Airbus’s boss.

Guillaume Faury, chief executive of the pan-European plane-maker, warned that the longer borders remain closed and flights grounded, the greater the danger of long-term damage to society, the global economy - and even peace. 

“Aviation connects and unites people, cultures and businesses, providing the lifeline of international trade, supporting development, education and global economies,” he said in an open letter.

“Air travel does not only broaden our intellectual horizons, it eases tensions by bringing us together to learn from and understand each other, helping us find answers to our shared problems. 

“Aviation safeguards global peace and stability. It underpins the multilateralism, diplomacy and conflict resolution that many have taken for granted in the latter part of the 20th century. 

“A more connected world is a more prosperous world, a prosperity that provides the foundation for innovation at scale and lasting transformation.”

Coronavirus has led to international travel bans to curb the spread of the virus that have wreaked havoc on the airline industry.

The UK has introduced a list of countries from which travellers must self-isolate for two weeks upon arrival. And there are now just nine countries Britons can fly to without any restrictions.

Coronavirus Quarantine Tracker Extended
Coronavirus Quarantine Tracker Extended

Mr Faury - who is currently overseeing Airbus cutting 15,000 staff as it battles the collapse in air travel - said that “the longer the hiatus on international trade and movement, the more serious the consequences will be”.

He also warned that a “prolonged economic malaise will leave governments and businesses on a weaker footing to address the most pressing issues”. 

Ambitions for a green economy emerging from the pandemic are also in danger, Mr Faury claimed. Although aviation is responsible for the less than 5pc of CO2 emissions, the industry hopes to reduce this figure significantly. 

Earlier this week Airbus unveiled designs for emissions-free hydrogen aircraft as its tries to limit its environmental footprint.

However, the chief executive said that developing new green technology required “the urgent deployment of vast amounts of capital [but] this crisis is constraining business investment”.

He also took a swipe at rail as an environmentally-friendly alternative to air travel.

Aviation “leaves little physical imprint on the ecosystem as aircraft fly over them”, he said. In contrast, he called high-speed rail “fragmented” and “limited”, adding that rail infrastructure causes environmental damage as new tracks are laid.

Meanwhile,  the boss of Lufthansa hoped pre-flight coronavirus testing will start to unlock some transatlantic air travel before Christmas.

Fast, inexpensive tests like ones being tried in Italy will be widely available within weeks, said Carsten Spohr.

Lufthansa is in talks with the US and Canadian governments to open up a small number of routes that would require every passenger to undergo screening prior to departure, he said.

“Testing is the game changer for our industry,” Mr Spohr told Bloomberg. “Antigen tests are just around the corner, and the two producers that have them today can produce them in vast numbers.”