Tuesday, 5 January 2021

Leading airline association wants to reconnect the world - despite the rising numbers of highly transmissible virus strains

There is no doubt that 2020 will be a year that will live long in in the memories of all of us. The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we do pretty much everything,  sociallising, travelling for business and pleasure, communicating, shopping and so many other areas of oiur day to day lives. Many industries have been adversly affected by this global pandemic, not least the aviation industry.   

The full extent of the damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic may never be known completely. For the airlines alone losses will total about $120 billion in 2020 and another $40 billion in 2021. And there is an enormous social and mental toll caused by up to 46 million lost jobs related to travel and tourism, lockdowns and family separations. 

This is why IATA The International Air Transport Association says "We have to safely reconnect people by reopening borders without quarantine."  Despite small number of people being tested prior to flights,  only to be tested again after a flight and been fun d to be positive for the virus. 

IATA says it has a plan to do this responsibly by carefully managing risks.  

In collaboration with international health authorities, we propose:

  • Strict bio-safety protocols
  • Systematic testing
  • A secure digital health passport
  • Financial aid & cost reduction

Taken together these measures will allow governments to reopen borders and lift quarantines without fear of creating new outbreaks. 

In parallel, we are doing all that we can to keep economically vital air cargo shipments moving. This includes enabling efficient vaccine distribution by air with effective global standards. 

Bio-safety - ensuring passenger and crew safety

With strict bio-safety measures, including the wearing of masks throughout the travel process, the air travel environment is safe. Studies by Harvard, the US Department of Defence and aircraft manufacturers point to the low risk of air travel when wearing a mask. And fewer that 100 of the 50 million COVID-19 cases globally have been documented as passenger-to-passenger transmission in flight. See press release.

The World Health Organization (WHO), public health authorities, IATA, airports, manufacturers and other key stakeholders have been collaborating through the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to produce guidance on bio-safety measures: the ICAO CART take-off guidance. Using this guidance, IATA has produced a roadmap to implement best practices across all stages of the travel journey from pre-departure to arrival. 

The bio-safety measures include: 

> More on the IATA full suite of bio-safety measures (pdf) 

Systematic testing - a pragmatic and practical measure

Recent studies all point in the direction that testing reduces the risk of importing COVID-19 through travel to very low levels. A detailed modelling study also concluded that test-and-release without quarantine found only 0.01% of arrivals potentially infected with COVID-19.

Where the incidence in the departure country is higher than in the arrival country, identifying travelers with COVID-19 through testing would effectively bring the risk of of importing the virus to not more than the prevalence of the virus at destination.

COVID-19 tests are already available throughout the world and continuous advances in technology will improve testing performance even further. Testing should be fast, accurate (ideally 95%), scalable and affordable using technology that can be easily operated without creating an additional burden on healthcare systems. IATA and ICAO advocate that testing be part of a risk-based approach to determine appropriate mitigation measures. 

> More on IATA's reopening borders guidance- incl. testing

A secure health passport: the IATA Travel Pass

The IATA Travel Pass, a mobile app, will  be a key tool to protect passengers and states from fraud and misinformation on COVID-19 tests and vaccinations.

The IATA Travel Pass will offer passengers:

  • Latest country-by-country travel information and restrictions
  • A list of certified laboratories and medical centers for testing and vaccinations
  • A secure channel for labs to send medical information which passengers can then pass to border agencies and airlines.

The app will be fully encrypted, allowing the safe use of sensitive health information online. It can also store all passport information, effectively creating a ‘digital passport’ that can be used at border crossing in lieu of a physical passport for contactless travel.

> More on the IATA Travel Pass initiative

Financial aid & cutting costs

The final critical element to a safe and successful restart is continued government financial and regulatory support, regulatory alleviation and cost reduction across the value chain. The $173 billion of financial support provided by governments has been a lifeline for many airlines. Significant cash burn is expected to continue well into 2021 and demand is not expected to recover to 2019 levels until at least 2024. Continued support to stabilize the industry will be needed. Critically, this must not further inflate the industry’s debt burden which has increased by over 50% to $651 billion.

Airlines are drastically cutting costs but revenues continue to fall faster. This is putting more aviation jobs at risk. The industry must live within the means of drastically reduced revenues. In particular, It is imperative that airports and air navigation service providers avoid cost increases to fill gaps in budgets that are dependent on pre-crisis traffic levels. And, regulatory alleviations, including slot allocation waivers (80-20 “use it or lose it” rule), must be continued until a normalization is achieved. 

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