Aviation minister ‘completely out of touch’, says pilots’ union

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The general secretary of the British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa), has accused the aviation minister, Robert Courts, of being “completely out of touch”.

Martin Chalk, told The Independent: “The aviation minister seemed to be on a different page to the rest of the industry.

“The industry is talking about being behind in the UK compared to Europe, and he seemed unwilling to accept that.”

Mr Chalk was speaking after Robert Courts had addressed the Airlines 2021 conference in London. The aviation minister told delegates there had been “a lot of good news for the aviation industry over the past few weeks”.

Mr Courts said: “The UK aviation sector will emerge in a better place than it’s been in the past.

“We want to make sure the sector bounces back as soon and as far as possible.”

The minister rejected criticism of the travel restrictions imposed by the UK government, saying: “We’ve already simplified the passenger locator form.”

But Shai Weiss, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, criticised the amount of bureaucracy and testing required for arrivals to the UK.

“We’re behaving as though we don’t have a vaccine,” he said.

The pilots’ union leader also said Robert Courts was unwilling to accept that Heathrow is falling down the European rankings, and that the UK has “a very bureaucratic and overbearing testing and passenger locator form system, and he was suggesting that that had been simplified”.

“For me, the minister needs to get around the table with the industry and actually start being a partner, rather than either a cheerleader or completely out of touch.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Transport (DfT) said: “Our utmost priority is protecting the safety and health of the public, and we will not compromise on ensuring passengers comply with the health measures necessary to keep us all safe.

“The department and ministers have met extensively with the sector’s leadership throughout the pandemic, including through our Experts Working Group, and continue to have regular conversations with the sector as together we build its recovery.”

The government says it has provided £8bn of support the aviation industry during the coronavirus pandemic.

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