Stewart Wingate, CEO, Gatwick Airport Limited - Update for GATCOM members

Published: 18 May 2020

In two short months, the world has changed for everyone.  For Members of GATCOM, representing the interests of so many people and businesses in the local area, I know that this will have been a particularly challenging time both professionally and personally as we all grapple with a new way of life.  First, and foremost, I hope everyone is well and healthy and have managed to avoid this terrible virus.  Secondly, I want to say a huge thank you for all the letters of support and good wishes that I have received from the many individuals and organisations over the last few weeks.  During these times, that support is much appreciated by both myself and of course, the entire Gatwick Team.

As you will all appreciate, we were not able to hold the quarterly GATCOM meeting at the end of April.  Therefore, I would like to provide you with a short update on the impact on Gatwick to date, our initial response and how we are planning to move forward.

Impact to date

The Covid-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented and devastating impact on the aviation industry as lockdown, in its various forms, has prevented people across the world from making domestic or international journeys.  At Gatwick this has resulted in airlines being forced to reduce their schedules; ground aircraft; and consolidate operations.  

As a result, Gatwick is currently handling very few aircraft and passengers. We would usually expect to see over 4 million passengers using Gatwick during May, whereas now we expect 20,000 in total.   This is the same volume that we would expect to see in 2.5 hours on a single day in a normal May.  

The majority of our passengers have been arriving or departing on repatriation flights.  We have also seen regular humanitarian cargo movements every week, bringing much needed supplies of personal protective equipment for the NHS and other frontline services.   Other activity includes a limited number of training and maintenance flights which are required to meet regulatory requirements for aircraft and crew.

Gatwick’s Response

It was against this backdrop that we took some swift decisions to protect the business and local jobs.  We have taken a range of steps to protect both the wellbeing of our staff and passengers and shield the business to enable it to recover quickly. Measures taken to reduce the airport’s operational footprint include the temporary consolidation of operations into the South Terminal and limiting scheduled flights to between 1400 and 2200 each day.    Both measures came into effect on 1 April 2020 and are being kept under regular review with a decision on returning to normal operations taken when airline traffic and passenger demand increases. 

Our utmost priority continues to be the health and wellbeing of passengers and staff.  We have followed all Government and PHE advice and put in place a range of additional measures to adapt the airport operation including: 

  • Maintaining social distancing measures across our airport including signage, PA announcements, physical barriers and floor markings
  • displayed clear posters around the airport to alert passengers to self-isolate if they experience symptoms, in line with PHE advice;  
  • reminded staff and passengers to observe good hygiene and provided additional handwashing facilities and hand sanitisers around the airport;
  • increased our cleaning regimes specifically for high traffic / touch point areas and provided additional signage for passengers to access handwashing facilities;
  • All airport retail units are closed, with the exception of Boots.  Their South Terminal landside unit is open for most of the day and their airside units open when passengers are departing.

We are also looking to introduce further special measures in the airport to ensure that the health and wellbeing for our passenger’s future air travel journeys remains paramount.  This has included  the use of face masks for our front line staff, even more hand washing facilities as well as maintaining enhanced cleaning.  Social distancing will be encouraged wherever possible.  Our overall aim is to ensure that the passenger journey arriving at or departing from the airport remains safe as well as easy to follow and efficient. 

 

We will be following Government guidelines to play our part in further protecting the country by supporting the implementation of a 14-day quarantine for those returning from the UK from certain destinations.  Details of this measure are still emerging and should become clearer by the end of the month.

 

Actions to safeguard the financial resilience of the business include reducing costs by deferring spend on the airport’s Capital Investment programme for the foreseeable future, putting over 90% of eligible staff on the UK Government’s Job Retention Scheme to preserve jobs, reducing the headcount of permanent staff through a special severance scheme and all staff taking a pay reduction, including myself and my executive team.

 

The measures we have put in place to date have been achieved through an all-consuming effort from my team and with the support of colleagues from across the Gatwick Family.  We have had to make very difficult decisions within a very short time-frame and we have achieved this together in an unprecedented and continually changing environment.  It has been a great example of how the Gatwick team will always rise to the challenge.   

Moving Forward

Our focus now is on our plans to move forward.  We remain very optimistic about the long-term prospects of Gatwick Airport and our resilience as a business and, having remained open throughout this pandemic, we are in a strong position to resume our current operations quickly to meet demand.   

We are continuing to engage regularly with Government, the airlines and other stakeholders to ensure Gatwick is in the best possible position to rebuild the operation as quickly and as safely as possible, taking into account Government public health advice.  

The recent Government announcement regarding the 14 day quarantine period for passengers arriving into the UK has resulted in yet more significant uncertainty for the aviation industry and will undoubtedly have an impact on our ability to maintain vital connections, for businesses, for trade and more generally, for tourism. 

Therefore, the focus of our engagement with Government will be to secure a clear, time bound exit strategy from quarantine, to be reviewed on a regular basis as well as further business support measures to see the Airport and our local economy through a period of recession and where spend and demand remains low..

Our priority continues to be to protect the health and wellbeing of all staff and passengers. This will be an essential foundation to building consumer confidence as the Government eases travel restrictions and international borders re-open.  

We are pleased to have been the first airport in England to help establish a COVID-19 testing centre in one of our long-term car parks.  Initially for NHS and health workers its use has now been extended to include symptomatic people working in transport, which offers further reassurance to our staff and passengers that the airport remains a safe environment.  

 

We were saddened to hear news from our close partners British Airways and Virgin Atlantic that they may have to respectively reduce and terminate flights from Gatwick as a result of falling demand as of course this will mean the loss of local jobs and revenue.  However, we are working closely with our other airlines including easyJet, the IAG Group, Wizz, TUI and Ryanair to strengthen our business for the future and continue to offer passengers a good choice of destinations from Gatwick.  In fact, you will notice that although their planes are currently grounded, easyJet have been and will continue to fly some short maintenance flights, as required by UK regulations, until their schedule resumes so they are ready to get flying as soon as possible.  We are hopeful that more regular flights will start to return in June.

We will also be working closely with local stakeholders to help efforts to support the recovery of the local economy, which we know from recent reports will be one of the hardest hit in the UK. Gatwick has always served as a catalyst for economic growth locally, helping the area to support a more diverse range of sectors and businesses, therefore making it more resilient in the long term.  We remain committed to ensuring that the Airport continues to support a thriving local area as we all move forward out of this crisis.      

Finally, we have and will continue to encourage our staff, when not working, to volunteer in the local community to provide help and support wherever they can.  I am in awe of so many examples of wonderful acts of kindness many of them have displayed from helping stranded passengers or supporting frontline health workers.  We are also delighted to share the news that our newest charity partner SASH (local hospital charity), has benefited from a £5k donation from a special Covid19 fund established by the Vinci Foundation, to help organisations supporting frontline workers dealing with the coronavirus crisis worldwide.

 

We are in discussion with the GATCOM Chairman and Secretariat on how we facilitate the quarterly GATCOM meetings and we will update you on next steps as soon as we can.  

In the meantime, please stay safe and on behalf of the whole Gatwick team, I send all GATCOM Members our very best wishes at this difficult time.

 

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