Air transport in turmoil as flights from UK banned
From Tim Hepher
PARIS (Reuters) - Europe is facing significant disruption to air traffic as a growing number of countries ban flights from the UK on fears of a new strain of coronavirus, causing airlines to repeatedly request more testing to cross the borders keep open.
Eurocontrol Director General Eamonn Brennan said there were 900 daily flights between the UK and the 27 countries of the European Union between Monday and Saturday last week.
"We will see a significant impact on the network due to the new (coronavirus) variant in Great Britain," wrote the head of the European air traffic control authority on Twitter.
Since losing around six million flights since March due to the pandemic, airlines have been faced with a barrage of nighttime restrictions reflecting the sudden impact of the ash from an Icelandic volcanic eruption in 2010, albeit on lower traffic.
"The measures were taken at extremely short notice," a representative of the aviation industry told Reuters.
Shares in European airlines fell sharply, led by UK-based airlines easyJet (down 10%) and owner of British Airways, IAG (down 9%).
When EU officials met to find a coordinated response, the airlines again appealed to tighten testing regimes to keep borders open.
"Governments must work together to establish mutually recognized testing capabilities so that borders remain open to the vast majority of healthy passengers," said the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
IATA, which represents most of the major airlines, said the World Health Organization had adopted a "test, test and retest" mantra, adding, "We ask governments to heed this advice."
Under initial restrictions that went into effect Monday, transport companies faced a mixed situation.
Italy and Germany have exempted cargo and medical flights from their flight bans on flights out of the UK. A new, more easily transmissible variant of the coronavirus is spreading rapidly.
Romania has also exempted postal flights, but it was not immediately clear to what extent postal services elsewhere would be affected.
Deutsche Post previously said it had stopped all package deliveries to the UK.
France, Latvia and Bulgaria have banned all flights from the UK with no apparent exceptions, according to communications to pilots. The UK expressed surprise at the inclusion of freight.
Airlines operating at London Heathrow have been warned to ensure passengers are not stranded in the UK and "can be properly directed to their final destination".
The Netherlands said in an industry bulletin that Dutch airlines and the UK easyJet could repatriate planes and crew "to get those planes out of the UK".
Long-haul travel was also affected, although traffic on these routes is already hardest hit by the collapse in demand for air travel caused by the pandemic.
Hong Kong said it would ban all flights from the UK after midnight, the first such move in Asia.
Canada said Sunday it would suspend passenger flights from the UK for 72 hours.
(Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Mark Potter)
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