21 October, 2020

IATA continues its call for pre-departure COVID-19 tests and financial giveaways to airlines.......yet pre-departure tests may not catch every infection.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has yet again re-iterated its urgent call for governments and authorities to re-open borders with COVID-19 testing as well as further cash handouts for airlines as the second wave of the pandemic increases pace across Europe.

Border restrictions, especially quarantine measures, have undermined one of the cornerstones of European development, the free movement of people, the association says.  As a result, passenger demand has plummeted and 2020 is expected to see passenger numbers down at least 70% compared to 2019 for travel to/from/within Europe. Only 340 million travellers in the region are expected to fly in 2020 compared to close to 1.2 billion that flew in 2019. Equally, the rapid demise in flights has had led to a massive boost for the environment,  with pollution at record lows in many cities around the world. 

This collapse in air traffic has had a devastating impact globally on aviation and the millions of workers in the industry. Research from the Air Transport Action Group estimates some 4.8 million jobs directly connected with air transport are at risk. Many millions more in the travel and tourism industry are also threatened. It is imperative that governments work together to coordinate a plan to restart the industry. In the meantime, additional financial support is needed to help the industry get through the winter.

“Airlines are burning through cash at the rate of $300,000 a minute in the second half of 2020. And much of the government support that has enabled them to remain viable is running out.  The prospect of catastrophic job losses is very real. Continued financial support is desperately needed until the industry can get back on its feet,” said Rafael Schvartzman, IATA’s Regional Vice President for Europe, who was speaking today at the Portugal Air Summit.

IATA claims it is essential that governments in Europe and around the world adopt a harmonized and coordinated approach to safely re-open borders without quarantine by using COVID-19 testing. The aviation industry has set out a clear vision of systematic pre-departure testing to give governments the confidence to re-open borders. But the European Union’s Council Recommendation fails to set clear conditions for the use of testing to replace quarantine.

“Quarantine of any length will continue the economic destruction of COVID-19. Testing must replace, not shorten, quarantine. And testing costs should be borne by governments, in line with the WHO’s International Health Regulations. Swift and consistent action from European governments is essential if the year-end travel season is to be saved in any form,” said Schvartzman.

IATA’s survey of travellers indicates widespread support for testing in place of quarantine:

83% will not fly if they have to quarantine on arrival
But 88% say that they are willing to be tested to facilitate travel
65% agree that quarantine is not necessary if a person tests negative for COVID-19
Some 39% stated that the government should pay for testing while only 25% believed it should be the responsibility of travellers.

European Leadership


With Portugal set to assume the Presidency of the European Council from January, Schvartzman also outlined aviation policies for the Portuguese government to pursue in addition to tackling the COVID-19 crisis. Chief among industry concerns is the reform of the EU 261 passenger rights regulation to ensure it is fit for purpose to cope with the unique demands of the pandemic. Aviation is also determined to keep its sustainability commitments. To assist with this, the EU must particularly encourage investment in Sustainable Aviation Fuels and accelerate the development of the Single European Sky.

“Portugal has an important leadership role to play. The quest for a greener planet and air transport industry must be addressed collectively and fully respect global standards and commitments. We look forward to partnering with the Portuguese authorities towards our common goals. Let us ensure together that aviation continues to benefit societies and economies alike and remains the business of freedom,” he said.

The false sense of security with pre-departure tests?

There is also a danger that the call for rapid COVID-19 tests pre-departure, may not be the catch-all panacea IATA touts it as.   This week, a number of Russian and Ukrainian fisherman flew from Moscow to Christchurch in New Zealand via Singapore all tested negative in pre-departure checks have tested positive on arrival in New Zealand. The seamen have a period of self-isolation for 14 days before embarking on the flights and  they did not leave the aircraft in Singapore 

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