The CEO of London’s Heathrow Airport has called on Westminster to boost support for the vital aviation sector, warning that, without it, Virgin Atlantic might go bust, as the possibility of a bailout deal is still in limbo.

John Holland-Kaye, who has been at the helm of Britain’s biggest air hub since 2014, said the government seems not to realize how important a pillar of the country’s economy the air industry is.

“It’s disappointing that the UK stands out globally as being one of the few countries not to be supporting its aviation sector,” he told Reuters on Friday. 

He called on the powers that be to follow the lead set by the US and some European countries, and throw a lifeline to the UK’s air carriers and airports. Without national support, Virgin Atlantic might soon collapse, like the UK’s largest domestic airline, Flybe, he warned.

Budget carrier Flybe, which accounted for 40 percent of all domestic flights, ceased all operations on March 5, after failing to secure emergency funding. The collapse resulted in the loss of 2,400 jobs ans left thousands of passengers stranded across the UK and Europe.

The Heathrow boss’s warning comes as global airlines are struggling to survive, the coronavirus outbreak having halted almost all travel.

Virgin Atlantic, co-owned by British billionaire Richard Branson, hopes to receive £500 million in government aid to stay afloat, with Branson even offering to mortgage his private Caribbean island to help save the company.

However, the business magnate has come under fire for seeking the taxpayer bailout, given that his companies enjoy the benefits of offshore tax status. The loss of another major carrier would nevertheless be a huge blow for the UK aviation market.

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