Sebastian Mikosz, Senior Vice President for Member and External Relations says governments must provide greater clarity for the industry restart.
As 2020 was ending we started becoming hopeful. The aviation industry was daring to hope that, perhaps, the winter season would see a slow recovery. This was spurred by announcements that vaccines were being approved.
Unfortunately, the news since Christmas, instead of gradually improving, has become worse. More infectious mutations of the virus have been discovered, and the response of governments has been simple: strengthen lockdowns and increase travel restrictions.
Across much of the world, pre-departure testing has been introduced, but with no concessions on quarantine requirements. That is, of course, destroying demand for air travel, which remains at cripplingly low levels. So, despite the big hope brought by the vaccine, in the short-term the overall picture is really grim.
IATA continues to make its case strongly to governments. For us, systematic testing is a means to reopen borders safely, without quarantine. However, it has become clear that governments see vaccines, rather than testing, as the game changer.
For the airline industry this approach is problematic. Why? Because if we rely solely on vaccines it could be years before we see the full reopening of international traffic.
Therefore, it’s not unfounded to ask ourselves the following questions: will 2021 be even a little better than 2020 for the air transport industry? When will countries really allow a restart of international air travel?
Primarily, we need to support governments, regulators, and sanitary authorities to agree on such benchmarks as testing capacity to create the conditions for this reopening. The best way to achieve this is to focus our advocacy on roadmaps for restart. We need to map multiple processes and illustrate the possible roads to restarting traffic at a global level.
It may seem a simple process, but it is not. Closing and restricting is always much simpler than opening and allowing. We need to plan the restart first. This will require redesigning networks, opening sales, deciding which planes to use, and which ones to keep on the ground.
We will also need to carry out additional maintenance and plan which crews will be operating and solve many other issues.
Finally, and most importantly, we need to have clarity on the sanitary requirements. Who will be required to do what to be allowed to board a plane and allowed to travel without a quarantine on arrival?
As the middleman between passengers and governments, we want to provide tools to allow the implementation of such roadmaps. For example, we have to ensure that not only do travelers have the correct documentation to enter their destination country but also that they also have secure means to transfer their personal and private data.
We made significant progress towards this with the development of a mobile phone App called IATA Travel Pass. The App is an industry solution that will help travelers manage vaccine or testing requirements with accurate information, secure identification, and verified data. Several carriers including Singapore Airlines, Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar Airways are piloting IATA Travel Pass, and we expect to roll it out before the end of Q1 2021. This will allow us to move from theoretical standards to practical implementation to get travel moving again.
Of course, IATA Travel Pass—and other similar apps being developed—will be useless if governments persist with lockdowns and quarantines, and we remain hugely concerned about this possibility.
There is no harmonized vision and roadmap between nations or even within governments that can give any certainty to airlines.
As a group of experienced optimists, we strongly believe in the capacity of our industry to adapt and then grow again. But the roadmap cannot be to simply wait until the entire world is vaccinated. Nor can we persist with a framework where restrictions immediately come back every time a new variant of COVID-19 is identified. We need to get beyond that and learn to live with the virus, which the vaccines and testing will allow us to do.