• Manchester Airport calls on Government to introduce a simple two-tier travel system ahead of October 1st review
  • Government figures show UK aviation is the worst hit sector, more than 90% down on pre-pandemic levels
  • Manchester Airport served around 16% of pre-pandemic traffic over the crucial summer months, with numbers still 74% down in August compared to 2019

Manchester Airport is calling for the Government to introduce a simplified two-tier system for international travel, as fresh data revealed the UK aviation sector is slipping even further behind in its recovery.

It comes as MAG, the UK’s largest airport group which owns and operates Manchester, London Stansted and East Midlands airports, reported that its passenger numbers for August were 68.1% down on the same month in 2019.

Figures also showed that Manchester Airport served roughly 1.5 million passengers between June and August this year, which was only 16% of the almost 10 million passengers over the same period in 2019.

This sluggish recovery is despite more than 80% of the adult population being double-vaccinated, compared to a year earlier when the immunisation programme was not even underway.

ONS data from June showed that aviation remains the worst hit UK sector, with activity still more than 90% down on pre-pandemic levels, compared to food and entertainment sectors which have seen a steady increase in business over recent months.

MAG says the UK’s traffic light system must be reformed urgently – and ahead of the scheduled 1st October review date – to protect the travel sector through the winter season and restore consumer confidence now for bookings next summer.

It has called on the Government to bring in a simplified two-tier system and remove mandatory testing requirements for fully vaccinated arrivals from countries without new, concerning Covid-19 variants.

The introduction of a two-tier system would see the majority of international markets open for travel as the default, with only those countries which pose a significant public health risk from new variants subject to travel restrictions such as testing and a period of quarantine. This proposal would remove the chaos and confusion caused by the traffic light system and restore consumer confidence by reducing concerns about last-minute changes which have been commonplace this summer.

Along with a simplified system, ending mandatory PCR testing for fully vaccinated passengers would remove a costly and unnecessary barrier to travel and bring the UK’s travel policy back in line with Europe. The Government has previously justified the need for these tests because they allow for monitoring of variants among inbound passengers, but the latest Government-published data shows that fewer than 30% of positive test results are actually sequenced to identify variants.

Together, these changes would allow for the fuller and more sustainable recovery UK aviation requires as it closes the door on two lost summer periods.

MAG CEO Charlie Cornish said: “Fully-vaccinated British residents can only look on in envy as people across Europe enjoy the freedom to travel easily to low-risk holiday destinations.

“With restrictions almost entirely removed across the UK, now is the time to give people back those freedoms to explore, relax and visit loved ones.

“The UK’s over-cautious and unnecessarily complex traffic light system is confusing to customers and places needless barriers in the way of them booking travel.

“The impact that is having on our sector is clear, with traffic levels recovering at a much greater rate across Europe than here in the UK.

“Meanwhile, the rest of the economy has been opened-up to those who are double-jabbed, leaving travel as the only sector whose recovery is being held back for no logical reason.

“A simpler, more sensible approach to international travel must be adopted as soon as possible, and Government has the opportunity to deliver that in response to proposals put forward by MAG and others in our sector in the weeks ahead.”

MAG passenger traffic statistics – August 2021

Manchester London Stansted East Midlands MAG
Rolling 12-month total to Aug 21 3,470,316 4,019,885 458,039 7,948,240
12-month total % change year on year -76.6% -73.4% -78.1% -75.2%
Rolling 12- month total to Aug 20 14,831,610 15,103,532 2,087,699 -48.8%
Aug 21 total 865,868 1,142,805 155,862 2,164,535
Aug 21 % change year on year +27.8% +26.7% +21.7% +26.8%
Aug 21 % change on July 2019 -74.0% -60.1% -74.2% -68.1%

Manchester Airport passenger numbers summer comparison (June-August 2021 vs June-August 2019)

  June July August Total
  2021 205,835 447,954 865,868 1,519,657
2019 2,958,321 3,178,505 3,331,714 9,468,540

MAG passenger numbers summer comparison (June-August 2021 vs June-August 2019)

  June July August Total
2021 577,451 1,212,924 2,164,535 3,954,910
2019 6,803,497 6,507,612 6,150,712 19,461,821