Government policies such as closed borders, travel restrictions, and quarantines continue to destroy travel demand. This was evident in a disappointing peak (northern hemisphere) summer season that saw minimal improvements compared with the May-June period, as four in five potential travelers stayed home.
- Total July 2020 traffic was 79.8% below 2019 levels
- International traffic in July 2020 was 91.9% below 2019 levels
“Protecting their citizens must be the top priority of governments,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO. “But too many governments are fighting a global pandemic in isolation with a view that closing borders is the only solution. It’s time for governments to work together to implement measures that will enable economic and social life to resume, while controlling the spread of the virus.”
Airlines have been largely grounded for a half-year and the situation is not improving, according to de Juniac. “We see governments replacing border closures with quarantine for air travelers,” he said. “Neither will restore travel or jobs. Worse, governments are changing the entry requirements with little notice to travelers or coordination with their trading partners. This uncertainty destroys demand.”
IATA proposes a three-point action plan for governments to safely re-open borders as follows:
- Implement the ICAO Take-off guidance universally.
- Build on the solid work of ICAO Council’s Aviation Recovery Task Force (CART) by developing an agreed common framework for states to use in coordinating the safe re-opening of their borders to aviation.
- Develop COVID-19 testing measures that will enable the re-opening of borders by reducing the risk of COVID-19 importation to what is acceptable to public health authorities with accuracy, speed and scalability that also meet the exacting requirements for incorporation into the travel process.
In the meantime, airlines continue to lose billions of dollars and are facing difficult decisions to resize their operations and workforce for the future.
“Many airlines will not have the financial means to survive an indefinite shutdown,” de Juniac noted. “In these extraordinary times, governments will need to continue with financial and other relief measures to the greatest extent possible. It’s a solid investment in the recovery because each airline job saved supports 24 in the broader economy. And a functioning airline industry will be a critical enabler for economies to regain their full power.”
Financial relief must not increase already ballooning debt levels while regulatory relief should initially focus
on a global waiver for the use-it-or-lose-it 80-20 slot rule. The severe uncertainty in the market means that airlines need the flexibility to adjust schedules to meet demand without the pressure of being penalized for not using allocated slots.
Though many governments have granted waivers for the winter 2020 season the European Commission (EC) is dragging its feet, believing traffic will be restored to between 75% and 85% of February 2020 levels. This is far more optimistic than industry scenarios.
“The European Commission’s delay in granting a full-season waiver of the 80-20 slot rule for the northern hemisphere winter season is bad for everyone,” said de Juniac. “Airlines and airports will scramble while consumer uncertainty will only increase. As the Commission returns from its summer activities, granting a full-season waiver should be at the top of the aviation priority list.”
“What is killing aviation is the fact that governments are not managing the risks of opening borders,” he added. “Instead, they are keeping global mobility effectively in lockdown. The global protocols for safely re-starting aviation are agreed and no industry is as experienced in successfully implementing global safety programs as aviation.”