UK airlines call for multibillion-pound coronavirus bailout

Demand comes ahead of ‘bloodiest week in British aviation history’

British Airways planes at Heathrow
(Image credit: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images)

Bosses at British airlines are calling for a multibillion-pound emergency bailout to stop the industry being destroyed by the coronavirus.

Trade body Airlines UK has called for urgent action, saying the government’s “prevarication” and “bean counting” had to stop.

The chairman of Virgin Atlantic Airways’ majority shareholder, Virgin Group, will write to Prime Minister Boris Johnson today to warn that the sector needs immediate financial aid of up to £7.5bn to stay afload amid the ongoing pandemic.

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The Guardian reports the funding could include “cash advances and guarantees” that credit card companies will not “withhold millions of pounds relating to payments that their customers have made for future flights and holidays”.

Sky News adds that this week could be “the bloodiest week in British aviation history”, with British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, easyJet and Ryanair all expected to announce “mass groundings of aircraft and potentially huge redundancies” as the pandemic continues.

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British Airways warned employees last week that the industry is facing a “crisis of global proportions” that was worse than that caused by the 2003 SARS outbreak or the 9/11 terror attacks on New York. In a memo titled “The Survival of British Airways”, BA boss Alex Cruz said that the airline is to ground flights “like never before”.

“This crisis is going to be grim,” said Jon Horne, president of the European Cockpit Association, which represents more than 40,000 European pilots. “It is neither a Gulf War, nor Sars, nor 9/11, or the 2008 financial crisis, but all of them together.”

The call for aid comes after the US announced that it will extend its ban on travel from the European Union to include the UK and Republic of Ireland.

The extended ban, which will begin tomorrow, will hit vital routes for British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Norwegian Air. American Airlines has already announced that it is suspending nearly all of its long-haul international flights from today.

A UK government spokesman said: “We recognise how difficult the current situation is for the aviation sector and, across government, we are engaging with the sector’s leadership to support workers, businesses and passengers.”

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