But Heathrow’s boss said social distancing was not a solution for the biggest airports. He writes: “Forget social distancing – it won’t work in aviation or any other form of public transport, and the problem is not the plane, it is the lack of space in the airport. Just one jumbo jet would require a queue a kilometre long.”

Mr Holland-Kaye, who has sacrificed his salary for three months at a personal cost of £185,000, said “Heathrow is the biggest single-site employer in the country” and warned that thousands of jobs were now at stake. British Airways has begun a consultation to shed 12,000 jobs and Ryanair is also facing swingeing cuts. Jobs in other sectors that rely on air travel, including tourism, were also in jeopardy unless airports can begin operating safely, said Mr Holland-Kaye. He described aviation as “the cornerstone of the economy” and claimed that 40 per cent of UK annual exports are transported on passenger flights from Heathrow. “If those planes aren’t flying, UK factories can’t get the parts they need and nor can they get their finished goods to market,” he said.

Mr Holland-Kaye said the only way to re-open borders and begin international jet travel was “to get the infection rate under control in this country and in others” which he said could take two to four months. Once that is achieved then “a common international standard for health in travel” was needed that would keep the risk of infection during the journey “very low”. 

The new standard for travel could include a mandatory health check at the airport entrance; the compulsory wearing of surgical masks; and “fantastic levels of hygiene in the airport”.

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