Heathrow chiefs admit the tests would cost passengers £150 per person but say the measures would be welcomed by many.
Heathrow Airport is proposing a regime of testing in a bid to reduce 14-day quarantines and get people travelling as the travel sector suffers under the strain of the coronavirus crisis.
Its chief executive John Holland-Kaye called on the government to grant a scheme whereby passengers would be tested for COVID-19 at their point of entry to the UK – and again at a health centre within five to eight days.
He argued that such a programme would boost passenger confidence following fright over the sudden implementation at the weekend of a 14-day quarantine for people arriving from Spain.
It stoked worries among travellers over the potential for lost earnings under enforced, precautionary lockdowns.
Asked for his response to Heathrow’s idea on Sky’s Kay Burley@Breakfast, culture secretary Oliver Dowden said the government was reviewing all options because it wanted to minimise disruption but described testing as no “silver bullet”.
He admitted more countries could be added to the UK’s quarantine list if infection rates “run out of control” in them.
Mr Holland-Kaye acknowledged there would be a cost to passengers, under Heathrow’s proposals, of around £150 per person for the airport-based test but said he hoped that burden would come down as time went on and be attractive to people who wanted to limit their time in isolation.
Heathrow issued the plea for the government to work with the industry on the issue as it reported almost half a billion pounds of losses during the first half of the year.
Its CEO said: “The UK needs a passenger testing regime and fast. Without it, Britain is just playing a game of quarantine roulette.
“Our European competitors are racing ahead with passenger testing, if the UK doesn’t act soon global Britain will be nothing more than a campaign slogan,” he added.
In an interview with Sky News, Mr Holland-Kaye said he could not criticise the government for its response but called for a partnership to helping testing become a reality.
He told Ian King Live: “We pushed the button over the weekend on setting up a testing facility in Terminal Two – we could have it up and running within the next two weeks.
“What we need though is for the government to work with us on this. We need them to allow people out of quarantine if they have tested clear at both of those testing points.
“We need them to work with us on making sure we tie in to their track and trace system and I’m sure there will be some other changes we need to make to fit in with government policy.
“This is an opportunity for government and the private sector to work together to save the economy but also prevent a second wave of COVID.”