Hundreds of private jets fly into UK from coronavirus hotspots

“When people voted to leave in 2016 they were voting to take back control of our borders,” Priti Patel (Nov 2019)

David Collins, Northern Correspondent www.thetimes.co.uk 

Hundreds of private jets have been used by rich passengers to enter the UK from virus hotspots since the lockdown began.

Britain is already setting itself apart from the rest of the world with few travel restrictions. Many other countries have clamped down on international travellers and imposed quarantine rules.

An investigation identified 545 private jets landing in UK airfields since the lockdown was imposed last month. They have arrived from Spain (25), France (27) and Germany (32). A total of 15 private jets have also arrived from America, according to flight data supplied by WingX, an aviation consultancy. America has the world’s highest Covid-19 death toll, in excess of 38,000.

More than 15,000 passengers are still arriving into the UK each day on normal flights. No routine tests are carried out on arrival.

Private plane operators should carry out due diligence on passengers hiring private jets to see if they conform to the government’s rules on “essential travel” only.

Some wealthy passengers are being misleading about the purposes for private jet hire, however, claiming that they are travelling to family homes, rather than second homes or holiday homes. The UK still operates an open borders policy, unlike 130 other countries that have imposed travel restrictions since the pandemic began.

Professor Gabriel Scally, president of epidemiology and public health at the Royal Society of Medicine, said it was “hard to understand” why the UK persisted in an open borders policy, calling it “most peculiar”.

Justin Bowman, chief executive of the Air Charter Service, the largest private charter service in the world, said: “Governments are facing huge challenges moving people from different parts of the world back to the UK, where they are stranded.

“The airlines stopped pretty much overnight. There are still thousands of people in the wrong place. Many of these flights will be legitimate repatriations from around the world. I would hope those abusing the rules are in the minority.”

The super-rich have also been using private jets to leave the UK. A total of 767 private planes have flown from UK airfields since the lockdown. This includes 115 flights from London Farnborough airport, known for its “discretion and bespoke service”, according to one private jet company’s website.

The most popular destinations for jets leaving the UK during the lockdown were France (34), Germany (34), Spain (30) and Russia (23). Private jet hire to Moscow can cost between £20,000 and £70,000.

Ten private planes have flown to the United Arab Emirates since the lockdown. Industry sources say a private flight to the UAE would cost up to £100,000.

One aviation source said: “These are some of the wealthiest people who count the UK as their home, who are fleeing to second homes since the lockdown was imposed.”

The Civil Aviation Authority, which oversees and regulates all aspects of civil aviation in the UK, said it had “no way of knowing if the hire of private aircraft has increased or declined in recent weeks”, as it does not monitor the numbers.

It emerged last week that French police turned back a private jet after a group of wealthy passengers flew from Farnborough to Marseilles for a holiday.

Clive Jackson, founder of the private plane hire firm Victor, said he believed most of the industry was acting responsibly when taking bookings from the public. “We have an obligation not to flout the rules as we have an essential part to play in the Covid crisis, providing genuine medical evacuation and repatriation for families in distress.”

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