It is “imperative” that the aviation sector recovers from the coronavirus pandemic in 2022, according to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
The Cabinet Minister acknowledged that “Covid is far from over”, and stated that the presence of variants of the virus in a number of countries “remains a concern”.
But he insisted that “considerable progress” has been made this year, and described the recent relaxation of the UK’s travel rules as “a clear sign that we are well on the way to recovery”.
Speaking at the Airport Operators Association’s annual conference, Mr Shapps said: “Global travel next year is predicted to grow significantly, coming after the worst two years on record. That will provide some welcome relief.
“So, now it’s time to look forward to rebooting tourism and trade, to getting the fleet back up in the air where they belong, welcoming passengers back to busy airports, and securing an aviation recovery that is safe and sustainable.
“That’s more than a hope for 2022. It’s an imperative and one that this Government is committed to achieving, together with you.”
Latest figures from Heathrow show the number of passengers who travelled through the airport in September was just 38% of pre-pandemic levels.
The airport’s chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, told the conference the UK “can’t take for granted” that it will again have a “huge aviation centre”.
He said: “Unless we all work together with Government to plan for a better future, it’s just not going to happen.
“That’s where you see a different approach from other countries which very much see aviation as being the key to their supply links around the world, where in the UK we’ve been much more internally focused.
“I think we misunderstood the vital role that aviation plays.”
His counterpart at Gatwick Airport, Stewart Wingate, said airports have had “little other tangible support” beyond the furlough scheme.