The boss of Virgin Atlantic says a failure to collaborate over a testing regime to open up air travel would be “devastating” for the industry.
The airline chief said the UK Government is “significantly underestimating” the effectiveness of passenger testing and called on ministers to act swiftly.
It comes as new research suggests that a “test and release” scheme could catch up to 90% of virus cases among arrivals following just five days of quarantine.
Travellers touching down in the UK currently have to self-isolate for 14 days unless they are flying in from an exempt country, territory or region.
The Government said its global travel taskforce is working “at pace” to develop measures to protect air connectivity and consider how testing could be used to reduce the self-isolation period.
Shai Weiss, CEO of Virgin Atlantic, said: “The new national restrictions outlined by UK Government demonstrate an overriding priority to save lives and protect public health and safety, which must always come first.
“However, the aviation industry has been all but grounded since March and with the new international travel restrictions, the sector’s ability to recover is severely hampered further.”
He called on the Government to make sure a passenger testing regime is in place by the time national lockdown restrictions begin to ease in December.
He pointed to newly published research from consultants Oxera and health analytics firm Edge Health which suggests that up to 90% of infected passengers could be detected following just five days of quarantine.
The analysis points to international examples, including in Iceland where 69% of infected travellers were identified upon arrival with a further 21% identified five days later.
Mr Weiss added: “As this latest analysis shows, UK Government is significantly underestimating the efficacy of passenger testing, therefore it’s essential that the Government’s Global Travel Taskforce acts swiftly to implement a testing regime to open up the skies safely, which industry has proven it can deliver without diverting vital NHS resources.
“If the introduction of testing is delayed, it will result in further distress across the travel, tourism and aviation industries, urgently driving the need for sector-specific support.
“Half a million UK jobs depend on a fully functioning aviation industry, therefore it’s vital that policy decisions are based on the latest possible evidence. Failure to collaborate will be devastating.”
A Department for Transport (DfT) spokesperson said: “Our priority has always been to protect the public and manage the risk of new cases being imported from abroad.
“The Government’s global travel taskforce is working at pace with clinicians, devolved administrations and the travel industry to develop measures as quickly as possible to protect air connectivity and consider how testing could be used to reduce the self-isolation period.”