Airlines call for US-UK ‘testing trial’ to resume more international flights

Airlines have called on the US and UK governments to launch a passenger testing trial for flights between New York and London, as a way to get closer to normal travel.

Executives of Airlines For America, Airlines UK, Heathrow Airport, and Virgin Atlantic said “passenger testing solutions in air travel” between New York and London should be in place by the end of the month to “gather real world evidence and data”.

In a letter seen by Reuters news agency, they wrote: “We believe that in the immediate absence of a vaccine, testing of passengers in aviation provides the best and most effective frontline defence.”


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There were more than 14,000 flights between New York’s JFK airport and London Heathrow last year, making it the busiest international long-haul route in the world.

However, under coronavirus restrictions, Britons cannot enter the US directly from the UK and those travelling from the US to the UK must isolate for two weeks on their arrival.

Sharon Pinkerton, senior vice president at Airlines for America, which represents American Airlines Co, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and others, said: “One of the key steps to recovery is setting up an international pilot programme between the US and either Europe, Canada, somewhere in the Pacific.”

Such a programme could help eliminate some of the international quarantines currently in place, she added.

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The US has, by far, the highest number of coronavirus deaths and infections in the world – according to a tally by US university Johns Hopkins, 186,000 people in the country have died and more than six million have returned a positive test.

Passengers wearing a face mask or covering due to the COVID-19 pandemic, arrive at Heathrow airport, west London, on July 10, 2020. - The British government on Friday revealed the first exemptions from its coronavirus quarantine, with arrivals from Germany, France, Spain and Italy no longer required to self-isolate from July 10. Since June 8, it has required all overseas arrivals -- including UK residents -- to self-quarantine to avoid the risk of importing new cases from abroad. (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images)

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New York was initially the epicentre of cases in the US but its rate of infection is now among the lowest in the country.

However, there would need to be a way of dealing with passengers coming to New York from other parts of the US that are more badly affected.

The US Transportation Department said it “stands ready to support the safe resumption of international flights between the US and Europe”.

“Conversations are ongoing between the federal government, international partners, and industry stakeholders on these matters,” it added.

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Coronavirus: The worst hit countries around the world

The UK government would not comment.

The possibility of quarantine-free travel between London and New York was first reported late last month, when the Department for Transport said: “We keep the data for all countries and territories under constant review, and will not add a country to our travel corridor list unless safe to do so.”

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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