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Channel Tunnel operator deep in red as pandemic hits passenger numbers

The operator of the Channel Tunnel link between France and the UK has reported a 2020 net loss of €113 million due to the coronavirus pandemic and Brexit, but said it was confident in the future.

Channel Tunnel operator deep in red as pandemic hits passenger numbers
The Channel Tunnel has seen a big fall on apssengers numbers due to the pandemic and Brexit. Photo: AFP

Getlink, formerly known as Eurotunnel, reported a 2019 net profit of €159 million.

Revenues were down 25 percent at €816 million last year, with Eurostar passenger services badly hit by the pandemic restrictions and the fallout from Brexit.

Operating profit — the company’s preferred measure — plunged 41 percent to €328 million, an amount described as still “very substantial.”

The company said it had not “burned through cash,” and had also managed to reduce debt during the crisis.

CEO Yann Leriche said the company had put in a “solid” performance in exceptional circumstances caused by the pandemic and Brexit.

“We have no doubt that the rebound will be rapid as soon as restrictions are lifted and that the situation will improve, notably thanks to vaccination,” he added.

The company did not make specific forecasts for 2021, citing a lack of visibility on the outlook.

Leriche noted that the British government’s announcement on Monday that it would review travel restrictions on May 17th had sparked an immediate increase in bookings – although strict limits on travel to France remain.

The company said it would resume paying shareholders a dividend, “a signal” of its confidence in the future of the business.

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TRAVEL NEWS

‘We will be ready’ vows France, amid fears of UK border chaos

Transport bosses have raised fears of long queues in British ports when the EU's new EES system comes into effect next year, but French border officials insist they will be ready to implement the new extra checks.

'We will be ready' vows France, amid fears of UK border chaos

The EU’s new EES system comes into effect in 2023 and many people – including the boss of the Port of Dover and the former UK ambassador to France – have raised concerns that the extra checks will lead to travel chaos on the UK-France border, and see a repeat of the long queues experienced last summer.

Port of Dover CEO Doug Bannister told The Local that he feared “tailbacks out of the port and throughout Kent” because the new system could take up to 10 minutes to process a car with four passengers, as opposed to 90 seconds currently.

EXPLAINED What the EES system means for travel to France in 2023

But French border control have insisted that they will be ready, replying to questions from the European Commission with “Oui, La France sera prête” (yes, France will be ready).

French officials said they had already undertaken extension preparation and would begin test runs of the new system in French border posts at the end of this year.

document shared recently by the secretariat of the EU Council (the EU institution representing member states) and published by Statewatch, a non-profit organisation that monitors civil liberties, shows how countries are preparing. 

“France has prepared very actively and will be on schedule for an EES implementation in compliance with the EU regulation,” French authorities say.

“The French authorities have carried out numerous studies and analyses, in cooperation with infrastructure managers, to map passenger flows at each border crossing post… and evaluate the EES impact on waiting times,” the document says. 

However, despite the preparation, the French admit that long waits at the border remain a worry, adding: “the prospect of the impact of EES on waiting times at the borders worries infrastructure managers. The fact remains that fluidity remains a concern, and that exchanges are continuing with each border post manager to make progress on this point.”

The EES system is due to come into effect in May 2023 and will be applied at all EU external borders – find full details on how it works HERE.

However there has been particular concern about the France-UK border due to three things; the high volume of traffic (in total over 60 million passengers cross the border each year); the fact that many travel by car on ferries and the Eurotunnel (while the EES system seems more designed with foot passengers in mind); and the Le Touquet agreement which means that French border control agents work in the British ports of Dover and Folkestone and at London St Pancras station.

EES is essentially a more thorough passport checking process with passengers required to provide biometric information including fingerprints and facial scans – border checks will therefore take longer per passenger, and this could have a big effect at busy crossing points like Dover.

The UK’s former ambassador to France, Lord Ricketts, told The Local: “I think the EES, in particular, will be massively disruptive at the Channel ports.”

The EU consultation documents also revealed more details of how EES will work on a practical level for car passengers – those travelling by ferry or Eurotunnel to France – with border agents set to use computer tablets to gather biometric information like fingerprints so that passengers don’t have to get out of their cars.

READ ALSO France to use iPads to check biometric data of passengers from UK

Doug Bannister added that Dover agents were “awaiting an invitation” to France to see how the new systems will work. 

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