In the second phase of the UK's management of the Covid-19 pandemic, Covid-19 continues to demand global businesses' attention and now takes first place on the Government's agenda. Worldwide border restrictions, European cities on lockdown and mechanisms that promote 'social distancing' become the new normal. It is estimated that 80,000 EU citizens are currently stranded around the world, waiting to get back to the EU amid the pandemic-travel lockdown. At the time of writing, the Foreign Office warned against all, but essential travel and the UK has yet to impose a travel ban.
With this as a backdrop, the Government is working with the travel industry to ensure that British nationals can get back to the UK. On the 18 March, the Transport Secretary and the airline industry-aligned and demonstrated their commitment to helping UK nationals return through commercial means, rather than resorting to state-led repatriation. Covid-19 has already shown itself as an enemy to international travel. Yet, the Department for Transport and the Treasury demonstrate an appetite to support the aviation industry and help it manage Covid-19's impact. The aviation industry awaits sight of the Government's imminent proposal in anticipation.
As airline activity continues to be stifled, a concern for airline lessees is state-imposed Covid-19 flight restrictions and the significant decrease in passenger demand. As a Covid-19 consequence, lessees may seek relief of their rental, or payment obligations, due to flight restrictions or the inability to perform lessees' operations. Further, the lessee may claim a 'force majeure event' allows the suspension of payment, or performance, under the lease. In response, the lessor should ensure payment obligations are absolute and carved out from force majeure provisions. In turn, lessors should be minded to 'hell or high water' clauses that generally cover absolute and unconditional contractual obligations placed on a party. Whether such contractual mechanisms can be invoked will depend on the parties' individual circumstances.