Graham Keddie said it would be unlikely the airport would use arrest powers
The head of Belfast International Airport has urged the public to stick to new safety rules or face arrest as passenger flights resume on Monday.
Graham Keddie said that while the airport has the power to arrest those who refuse to wear face masks, he thought such drastic action was unlikely and appealed for passengers’ cooperation.
He also hit out at what he called the “crazy rules” on quarantine, which requires international passengers arriving to self-isolate for 14 days.
“Why they’re introducing it 12 weeks after the spike, it is crazy stuff for the UK aviation industry,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.
Essentially we want to give people confidence that they can travel in safety.Graham Keddie
The media were given a preview of the new arrangements yesterday at an eerily quiet airport, with empty car parks and grounded planes at a time when around 25,000 passengers would normally be expected each day.
Less than 10% of the usual capacity is expected on Monday, but it’s hoped this number can steadily increase, as the airport is currently burning through £60,000 a day in running costs.
The new arrangements include a one-way system inside and passengers are required to wear face masks at all times in the terminal and on planes.
Non-passengers are not allowed in the building and all shops, bars and cafes are closed until further notice.
Vending machines will be available along with water fountains, while most toilets will also remain open.
Reduced security lanes are in place and staff checking baggage will be wearing protective face shields.
Check-in desks and car hire kiosks were all fitted with Perspex screens, while the normally bustling airport bar was taped off.
The arrangements mean that passengers can still board from both ends of the plane, but those with seats in the middle will be first.
Around 10 flights are expected on Monday, compared to the average of 70.
Other measures will include using a deep cleaning method known as ‘fogging’ in the main terminal building at night as an extra precaution.
It’s like driving a stake through the heart of our summer.
Passengers are expected to bring their own face masks, but the airport has purchased a supply of around 160,000, which will initially be available if needed.
Children under the age of six won’t be expected to wear masks, and those exempt because of a health condition will need to produce a medical note.
Around 12 of the airport’s normal workforce of 100 have been required in recent weeks, including several firefighters and those needed to stop birds nesting in planes. The airport has also remained open 24 hours a day for critical emergency medical and cargo operations.
The first outward flight is bound for Liverpool at 7am on Monday, while 154 seats out of 168 have been booked on the first international departure to Faro in Portugal on Tuesday.
“Essentially, we want to give people confidence that they can travel in safety,” Mr Keddie explained.
He said he hoped the Executive will soon give permission to open retail, food and drink at the airport.
“We’re still encouraging people to turn up two hours earlier, even though we will have a lot less flights,” he added.
“To put that into context, easyJet should have 57 flights on Monday, but will have seven.”
He said the ability to increase future passenger numbers would be helped by introducing measures such as reducing the social distancing rule to one metre.
“We want to ramp up because we want to see our people back working — there’s nothing worse than an empty airport,” Mr Keddie added.
He said the existing quarantine laws were “illogical, ill-timed and unenforceable”.
“The way it works is that someone can arrive here, they fill in a form and give a telephone number,” he said.
“Then they can go straight on to public transport and can still visit Tesco or elsewhere for their food and medicines.
“Why they’re introducing it 12 weeks after the spike, it is crazy stuff for the UK aviation industry.
“It’s like driving a stake through the heart of our summer. We cannot get the information from the Department For Transport or the Home Office on why it is being introduced now.”
On enforcing discipline at the airport, he said: “I just hope that people help us, that’s all we ask.
“The face masks or coverings will have to be worn as soon as we enter the building, it will be mandatory for all staff in public areas.
“We need passengers to do the same and would like their assistance with that. We will operate the airport bylaws, there are signs outside making that clear.
“We don’t want to get into that situation; what we want is for people to help us.”