London’s Heathrow airport said Wednesday it plans to offer fast-track lanes for fully-vaccinated arriving passengers, as the UK government winds down its pandemic curbs.
The government is expected Thursday to announce that travellers coming to England from “amber” countries — the middle ranking for Covid incidence, covering most of Europe — will no longer have to quarantine.
In advance, Heathrow said it was launching a pilot for passengers coming from selected destinations to enter an immigration fast track on arrival, after showing proof they have received both doses of a coronavirus vaccine.
“This pilot will allow us to show that pre-departure and arrival checks of vaccination status can be carried out safely at check-in, so that fully vaccinated passengers can avoid quarantine from July 19,” Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said.
July 19 is the government’s target date for lifting most pandemic restrictions in England, although many scientists are worried about the plan as infection rates soar from the more contagious Delta variant.
The government, however, says a successful mass vaccination programme has weakened the link connecting infections to hospitalisations and deaths.
More than 86 percent of adults in the UK have received at least one jab, and 64 percent are fully vaccinated, according to official data.
“The UK is already falling behind (the) US and EU, and a continued overly cautious approach towards international travel will further impact economic recovery and the 500,000 UK jobs that are at stake,” said Shai Weiss, chief executive of the airline Virgin Atlantic.
The Heathrow trial will initially cover passengers flying in on selected flights from Athens, Los Angeles, Montego Bay in Jamaica, and New York.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid on Tuesday said people in England who have been double-jabbed — as well as under-18s – will no longer have to self-isolate if they have been in contact with someone who tests positive for Covid-19.
But the easing will only apply from August 16, almost a month after other controls are due to have ended, including the mandatory wearing of face masks in enclosed spaces.
The UK’s other nations — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — set their own health policy and are moving more slowly.
Britain’s Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that Heathrow, one of the world’s busiest airports, can build a third runway, overturning a legal decision to block the plan on environmental grounds.
The nation’s highest court struck down a Court of Appeal ruling in February that the UK government had failed to take into account climate change commitments when in 2018 it approved the new runway at the London airport.
Heathrow successfully argued that the Court of Appeal made errors of law.
Environmental group Greenpeace said Prime Minister Boris Johnson should still not allow the project to proceed, in the light of his government’s targets on cutting carbon emissions.
The Supreme Court said the previous Conservative government had “no obligation” to consider the Paris climate agreement when it gave the nod to the extra runway.
While the UK government said building work could begin in 2022, Heathrow warned that it would delay construction by at least two years owing to the coronavirus fallout and the legal challenges.
Heathrow hailed Wednesday’s ruling, which it said would also allow Britain to compete with continental rivals following Brexit.
“Only by expanding the UK’s hub airport can we connect all of Britain to all of the growing markets of the world, helping to create hundreds of thousands of jobs in every nation and region of our country,” it said in a statement.
“Demand for aviation will recover from Covid-19, and the additional capacity at an expanded Heathrow will allow Britain as a sovereign nation to compete for trade and win against our rivals in France and Germany.”
The airport added that it had “already committed” to net-zero carbon emissions and that the latest ruling “recognises the robust planning process that will require… expansion is compliant with the UK’s climate change obligations, including the Paris Climate Agreement.”
But Greenpeace UK urged the government to scrap the project.
“Heathrow Ltd has squeaked out a belated legal win, but history has moved on,” said Greenpeace executive director John Sauven.
“Now the ball is in the government’s court, it’s hard to imagine Boris Johnson wanting to resurrect a project that makes no business or environmental sense.
“With a UK-hosted climate summit just a year away, the government should draw a line under this sorry saga.”
The ruling comes as the deadly Covid-19 pandemic has devastated demand for international air travel.
Heathrow last week said its Terminal 4 would remain closed until the end of next year because of the slump in passenger numbers.
Britain’s largest airport is owned by a consortium led by Spanish construction giant Ferrovial and comprising also sovereign wealth funds from China, Singapore and Qatar.
Britain’s government on Tuesday gave the go-ahead to building a third runway at London Heathrow, Europe’s biggest airport by passenger numbers, a long-awaited decision that has stoked decades of division and debate.
“The time for action is now,” Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said after a cabinet meeting, as he laid out the controversial plan in parliament, which will vote on it in the coming weeks.
“This is a decision taken in the national interest,” he added.
The expansion project is highly contested, mainly over environmental and noise level concerns for a large area of west London around Heathrow.
“We’ve considered these issues very carefully,” Grayling told lawmakers under questioning. “But the other thing we have to take into account is the potential for our economy.”
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who represents a nearby constituency, has previously opposed the plan, once pledging to lie in front of bulldozers to stop building.
It is unclear whether he and other lawmakers from the ruling Conservative Party will be allowed a free vote on the project.
Conservative former transport secretary Justine Greening insisted she would vote against the expansion — and urged the government to allow lawmakers to vote freely on the issue.
“These are local MPs who need to represent our local communities,” she told the BBC.
Although other Conservative MPs are also against the expansion, some opposition Labour lawmakers vocally backed the move in parliament.
Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said Labour will consider the proposal against four tests, including if environmental issues can be fully addressed and growth across the country is supported.
The parliamentary vote must take place by July 11, according to the Department for Transport.
‘Air pollution crisis’
Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven said: “Green-lighting a new runway at Heathrow on World Environment Day is like handing out free cigarettes on World Health Day.
“This airstrip alone will load the atmosphere with as much extra carbon as some entire countries pump out. It would make Londoners’ air more dangerous to breathe, contributing to an air pollution crisis that’s already cutting short thousands of lives.
“It’s time the UK Government took seriously its commitment to protect the environment by building a low-carbon economy.”
But the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Britain’s big business lobby, voiced strong support for the project.
CBI deputy director-general Josh Hardie said: “It’s fantastic that the new runway at Heathrow is getting closer to take-off. All the more so as the United Kingdom has waited for nearly half a century for this decision.
“Expanding our aviation capacity, and creating new flight routes to rapidly growing markets, is mission critical to ensuring Britain can compete on the post-Brexit world stage.
“Our aviation capacity is set to run out as early as 2025, so it’s crucial we get spades in the ground as soon as possible,” he said.
Grayling said the government’s decision was “an important milestone in building a global Britain”.
“As we leave the EU, the UK must remain one of the world’s best-connected and outward-looking countries and a third runway at Heathrow is the best option to deliver this,” he said.
British Airways owner IAG, whose chief executive Willie Walsh told a parliamentary inquiry in February he had “zero” confidence that Heathrow could deliver the project on time and on budget, called the decision a “missed opportunity”.
“Today Heathrow is the most expensive hub airport in the world,” it said in a statement.
“The government has missed an opportunity to provide the UK with the airport it needs at a price it can afford.”
Justice Abdul Kafarati of the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja has ordered the extradition of Franca Asemota, a Nigerian fugitive to the United Kingdom for offences bordering on trafficking of minors.
The court gave the consent to her extradition through the office of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) on Wednesday.
Asemota, 36, was wanted by the UK government for trafficking of minors to Europe through London.
Forced Into Prostitution
She was accused of allegedly organising a network that trafficked young women, mostly teenagers, from remote Nigerian villages into Europe using Heathrow Airport as a transit hub.
The girls were promised education or jobs, such as hairdressing in countries including France and Spain, but were forced into prostitution.
However, the long arm of the law caught up with Asemota when she was arrested by the operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on Wednesday, March 24, 2015 in Benin , Edo State capital on suspicion of money laundering offences.
On arrest, checks on her profile revealed that, she had been on the wanted list of the National Crime Agency, NCA.
When the case came up on Monday, January 11, 2016, Asemota’s counsel, Ugochukwu Ezekiel, prayed the court to grant his client bail to enable her seek medical attention as she had spent almost a year in custody.
Akuta Ukeyima from the office of the AGF, however, opposed the application saying that, it would be better to ask for a short date for ruling on the substantive matter.
Consequently, Justice Kafarati adjourned to Wednesday, January 13 for ruling.
At the resumed sitting, Justice Kafarati granted the extradition request and ordered that the accused be extradited to the United Kingdom to face trial for the charges filed against her.
Nigerians are top spenders in luxury retail and VIP services at Heathrow, Europe’s busiest airport
According to the recent statistics released by Heathrow, Nigerian travellers – who patronise this service – spend an average of £1,059 per visit on luxury retail.
Although over 70 percent of people in the country live on less than $2 dollars a day, its riches, concentrated in the hands of a few are freely spent on luxurious services abroad.
“Heathrow’s VIP Service was originally designed for dignitaries such as Heads of State but we recognised that the privacy and exclusivity that we offered is something that many passengers are looking for in their own lives,” Jonathan Coen, Heathrow’s retail director, said in a statement.
“Making the service available to First Class and Business Class passengers, we now provide a quality experience that allows our passengers to enjoy a personalised service and we’re delighted to welcome many of these from Nigeria,” he added.
Heathrow Airport’s VIP Service is available to First Class and Business Class travellers, flying on any airline to or from Heathrow.
The travellers get a dedicated entrance to the airport, collection from the aircraft and transportation directly to the exclusive suite where luggage is delivered. The passenger is also assisted with their check-in, immigration and baggage collection procedures.
“The Personal Shopping service is incredibly successful at Heathrow, especially with our international passengers. The service started in October 2013 with a five-member team and just over a year on, we have grown to 15 members who are on hand from the first to the last flight and offer assistance in 38 languages,” Coen added.
A Federal Lawmaker and Chairman House Committee on Treaties and Agreements, Dayo Bush-Alebiosu, has explained the importance of the proposed Passenger Rights Bill in protecting Nigerians who commune by flight.
He was a guest of Rubbin’ Minds on Channels Television, where he spoke on efforts in the National Assembly to review goings on in the aviation industry. Mr Bush reiterated the view that Nigeria is not doing it right as far as the sector is concerned and this led to the development of the Passengers’ Rights Bill.
Sharing few of his personal experiences, Mr Bush-Alebioshu said that there are too many cases of passengers being taken advantage of by airlines and airport authorities, and this “nonsense” needs to stop.
Bush, who claimed to have been delayed at the airport close to 6 hours, also cited situations whereby people pay for upper class tickets are they “bumped” into the economy class.
He explained that the Passengers’ Rights Bill is borne out of Nigeria being a signatory to the Montreal Convention. The Convention stated among other things, the rights that passengers would have, and luckily the treaty was domesticated in the 2006 Aviation Act.
However, the treaty is a guideline which has not been explicit enough to treat certain practical issues, and this led to the House coming up with the idea of developing clear laws to regulate the industry on issues like delayed flights, damaged luggage, emergency situations and many more.
He said that the bill was practically embraced by almost every member of the House of Representatives during its presentation. Having scaled through its first and second reading, it has been committed to the Committee on Aviation to conduct the public hearing which is expected to hold during the first quarter of 2014.
We Have Not Done Well
Speaking about the general state of the aviation industry and its controversial moments in 2013, Bush who noted that he was not out to witch-hunt anyone, said that the industry has not done well.
Although he acknowledged that there are indeed laudable renovations and constructions being done at the airports, he insisted that quality services are more important in developing the aviation sector.
For example, he complained that at the Muritala Mohammed Airport, MMA, Lagos, it still takes very long for arriving passengers to get their luggage after landing, with some spending as long as 2 hours waiting.
He went further by asking what the essence of renovating airports are, when on arrival in a Nigerian airport, the first thing travellers see are tankers branded in different company names parked all over the place.
Bilateral Air Service Agreement – BASA
The Chairman House Committee on Treaties and Agreements, also criticized the imbalance in the country’s treaties and BASA with other countries like the United Kingdom.
He berated current arrangements whereby the British Airways has the access to operate its international flights from about 3 or 4 Nigerian airports, with about 14 flights in and out of Lagos weekly, while the Nigerian carrier does not have such privileges in the UK.
Bush believes that this arrangement is killing the local aviation industry. He added that Nigeria’s Arik Airline which operates the Lagos to London route has been restricted by the British authorities to only land at the Heathrow Airport. The implication of this is that their own local airlines would make revenue off passengers whose final destinations within UK is not London.
He noted that before picking up any agreement, there should be a policy, and those policies must ensure three keys things. They must ensure that there is no infringement on Human Rights, they do not impact negatively on the environment and that sustainable development is guaranteed.
He berated the way Nigeria gets into agreements with countries with financial obligations being imposed on Nigerians yet the country is not taking them serious, adding that some of the BASA do not even have reciprocity.
He explained that the average Nigerian does not know the treaties that Nigeria is bound by. Meanwhile the laws guiding countries signing such treaties say that their citizens should know about them, with the office of the Attorney-General saddled with the responsibility of making the details available.
He asked: “Can you count how many Nigerian businesses that have gone to South Africa to succeed despite the successes they (South Africa) have enjoyed here?” It is so because Nigerians don’t even know their rights in order to take advantage of them.”
Mr Bush-Alebiosu, added that his committee has demanded a BASA audit on the floor of the House, and it was also supported by the entire House. The essence of this audit is to review all the BASA that Nigeria has signed, in a bid to review and demand that they become more beneficial to Nigeria and Nigerians.
Investigators started work on Saturday to establish the cause of a fire on a Boeing Dreamliner at London’s Heathrow airport, a new setback for the high-tech model after it was grounded at the start of the year over battery problems.
The fire broke out on the plane, operated by Ethiopian Airlines, on Friday afternoon, when it was parked at a remote stand with no passengers on board, eight hours after arriving from Addis Ababa. No one was injured.
External scorching could be seen close to the plane’s tail, in a different area from the bays containing batteries. There was no official indication of what could have caused the fire.
“The aircraft has been moved to a secure hangar at Heathrow and the investigation has begun,” said a spokesman for Britain’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB).
The AAIB will lead the investigation, working alongside the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Ethiopian Airlines and Boeing, he said.
Separately, engineers from Britain’s Thomson Airways were inspecting their own Boeing Dreamliner after it had to turn back during a flight on Friday from Manchester in England to Sanford in Florida because of an unspecified technical issue.
Boeing will be keen to reassure airlines, travelers and investors over the cause of the Heathrow fire as quickly as possible but under aviation rules it will be up to investigators to decide how much information to release and when.
Ethiopian Airlines, one of Africa’s top five carriers, said it would continue to fly its Dreamliner fleet. It has ordered a total of 10 Dreamliners of which four have been delivered.
“The incident at Heathrow happened while the plane was on the ground and had been for more than eight hours and was not related to flight safety,” the carrier said in an emailed statement on Saturday.
“After a normal flight from Addis to London passengers disembarked in the morning and the aircraft was cleaned. It was towed to a remote parking area as usual and parked properly with all internal and external powers switched off,” said an official from the airline’s public relations department.
The Heathrow and Manchester incidents are a new blow for Boeing after the entire global fleet of Dreamliners had to be grounded for three months, ending in April, after one high-tech battery caught fire and another overheated.
Boeing shares closed down 4.7 percent at $101.87 on Friday, knocking $3.8 billion off the company’s market capitalization.
Quoting Mark Mangooni, Ethiopian Airlines’ senior manager in Britain, the Financial Times reported that airline staff had discovered a problem with the aircraft’s air conditioning system during a routine inspection and had seen sparks but no flames.
The report did not make clear when this had happened. Reuters could not reach Mangooni for comment.
Heathrow briefly closed both its runways to deal with the fire, and a spokeswoman said on Saturday that the airport was back to normal operations, although it was still dealing with a backlog of delays and cancellations due to Friday’s incident.
The Dreamliner’s two batteries are in compartments located low down near the front and middle of the plane. Damage to the Ethiopian plane appeared to be on top of the fuselage, close to the tail, according to video from the scene.
Former NTSB Chairman Mark Rosenker said the Heathrow incident was extraordinary, coming so soon after the fleet had returned to service, but warned against jumping to conclusions.
“It’s very early. No one knows where the fire started at this point,” Rosenker told Reuters, adding it could be something as simple as a coffee pot left on in a galley.
A spokesman for GS Yuasa, which makes the Dreamliner batteries, said he had not received any information about whether or not batteries had been involved.
The 787 is Boeing’s biggest bet on new technology in nearly 20 years. It cost an estimated $32 billion to develop and Boeing plans to use hundreds of innovations such as its carbon-fiber composite skin and electrical system to enhance other jets.
The 787 Dreamliner fleet was grounded by regulators at the start of the year after batteries overheated on two of the jets within two weeks, including a fire in a parked Japan Airlines plane in Boston.
Boeing was forced to halt deliveries of the jet while it was grounded and airlines stopped ordering the plane at that time. Orders have since resumed and Boeing has logged 83 Dreamliner orders this year, bringing its current order book to 930 planes.
Boeing never disclosed the cost of the three-month grounding but said it absorbed most of the expense in the first quarter while still posting a 20 percent rise in profit. Its shares are up 35 percent this year, even after Friday’s loss.
The plane which caught fire in London was the first of the 787 fleet to resume flight after the battery-related grounding.
A person familiar with the aircraft’s configuration said the damaged area appears close to galleys and environmental control systems, but added that it was too early to link the fire to any specific equipment.
Several airlines said they were continuing to operate their 787s, including United Continental, Polish airline LOT, Japan Airlines and ANA, the world’s biggest operator of the Dreamliner.
Ethiopian Airlines Dreamliners are powered by General Electric GEnx engines.