Chancellor Rishi Sunak is setting up support package for airlines as they struggle to survive slump in passenger numbers caused by coronavirus crisis
- Chancellor says special measures will help aviation industry cope with fallout
- Grant Shapps says good firms ‘shouldn’t be going bust’ as a result of coronavirus
- Responses include ‘on occasions organisations being run by the public sector’
- He said this has already happened, unconnected to the virus, for some rail firms
- Short and medium-term timetables may be altered to avoid running ‘ghost trains’
- Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?
The Chancellor is drawing up a support package for airports and airlines struggling to survive.
Rishi Sunak said special measures would help the aviation industry deal with the biggest challenge in its history.
Ministers are even discussing temporarily renationalising struggling airlines, with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps saying emergency measures could see airlines, rail operators and bus firms ‘run by the public sector’.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps at Downing Street in London today for a Cabinet meeting
A sparsely-filled carriage on a commuter train from Maidenhead to London Paddington today
A sparsely-filled carriage on an Underground train at Goldhawk Road in West London today
The dramatic proposal follows dire warnings that airports could shut down ‘within weeks’ without government intervention.
Plummeting passenger numbers and sweeping travel bans have resulted in global air travel grinding to a near-total halt.
The International Air Transport Association said yesterday that many airlines had seen demand fall to zero for the first time.
Gatwick Airport yesterday made 200 staff redundant and British Airways entered redundancy talks with its pilots.
Air passengers in face masks walk through a deserted London Heathrow Terminal Five today
A check-in information board displaying flight cancellations at London Luton Airport today
Two men and a child wearing face masks walk through London Luton Airport today
Speaking in the final day of the Budget debate, Mr Shapps said: ‘The principle should, as far as we can possibly make this work, be that people and individuals and companies are left in the same position when we come out of this.
‘Although I have to say, I feel we will be in a somewhat changed world, a somewhat changed environment on the other side of this, but nonetheless good organisations shouldn’t be going bust.
‘It’ll be hugely challenging and we will require a lot of different responses and mechanisms in order to get there, including on occasions organisations being run by the public sector, which he’s already seen in the case of trains but for a completely different reason.’
On train timetables, Mr Shapps said: ‘It makes no sense for us to be running empty trains as fewer people will be travelling following the advice and guidance from the Government and Prime Minister last night.
‘So in the short, medium-term timetables may be altered in order to ensure we don’t effectively run ghost trains, which will make no sense.’
Mr Shapps said the Government is also ‘determined’ to ensure companies are ‘left in as strong a position as possible’ to ensure they can continue to operate after the virus outbreak, adding: ‘We will work in partnership with the transport industry to keep essential services running for the public and for those who need to get to work, those who have essential business.’
Labour former minister Yvette Cooper questioned why train services would be reduced given so many are ‘crowded’, adding: ‘Doesn’t it make sense to keep many more of them running for those essential workers who still have to get to work, but to make sure there are far fewer people on them?’
Mr Shapps replied: ‘She makes an excellent point and the reality is, because of social distancing as well, it may well be desirable to have more space between seats so people can keep some distance, so yes, that absolutely needs to be taken into account as we look at the timetabling going forward.’
Also today, Britons were been advised against all non-essential trips abroad as the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic continues.
The Airport Operators Association warned that UK airports may shut down ‘within weeks without Government intervention’.
Despite that warning, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told MPs the Government was advising against all non-essential foreign travel for an initial period of 30 days.
Meanwhile a second person has died in Scotland after being diagnosed with the illness, bringing the death toll to 56.