Capitalise on our vaccine success and restart international travel - Gatwick Aiport chief executive Stewart Wingate
Few places in the UK will have felt the impact of Covid-19 quite as much as Crawley.
A town so reliant upon the UK’s second-busiest airport, job losses have been more prevalent in Crawley than most other parts of the country.
It’s been a truly challenging time for us all, trying to balance saving as many jobs as possible with supporting the vital government actions to keep us all safe, as well as juggling the personal difficulties of living through a global pandemic. I’m very proud of the work of the team, keeping the airport operational throughout this period to support bringing people back on repatriation flights as well as handling important cargo supplies.
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Prior to the pandemic, Gatwick Airport supported one in 12 jobs across the region and contributed £2.7bn to regional gross domestic product. But Covid-19 continues to have a significant impact.
Last year, we sadly had to take steps to undertake a company-wide restructure, due to a dramatic decline in passenger numbers in the first six months of 2020. The picture didn’t get any brighter from there.
Passenger numbers continue to be down by as much as 98% in the last five months and overall, we have sadly had to let 45% of our workforce go.
If you haven’t been to the airport in the past year or so, the Gatwick you remember from your last trip looks a little different. We have consolidated all operations into the North Terminal, while some of our shops and restaurants remain closed for the time being.
The airfield, too, resembles a giant plane car park, while the actual car parks are almost empty. In fact, two have spent best part of the last year or so operating as Covid-19 testing centres.
But it’s not all bad news. Recent Oxera reports show Gatwick has the potential to support over 50,000 new jobs by 2028, as we rebuild operations and return to growth.
We’re currently developing a strategy to ensure the airport’s procurement and supply chain spending supports local businesses, building on the £100 million spent on the local supply chain in 2019.
To recover quickly and successfully, help generate economic prosperity for Crawley and the region, and support local residents and businesses, we need international travel back up and running.
While we’re grateful for the Government support to date, we would much prefer to be fully operational again, with restrictions eased for passengers where safe to do so and for travel to be simpler and less costly for passengers.
The UK’s vaccination rollout has been a world-leading success and we should be capitalising on this now, not wasting it. We strongly urge the Government to set out clear plans and timelines for quarantine-free travel for those with both vaccination doses, with no requirement for costly PCR tests.
We also need internationally agreed protocols to reopen borders to EU countries and the USA, as much of the EU and the rest of the world is already doing.
At Gatwick, we have airlines desperate to safely resume operations. We have passengers desperate to visit family and friends abroad, take a much-needed holiday or travel to conduct important business.
With summer holidays around the corner, we are coming up to a crucial time for the aviation and travel industries.
If Government can support us now by opening up international travel, Gatwick can support Crawley and the region for decades to come.