Though a global framework for restarting aviation has been agreed, inconsistent application of these biosafety measures along with unnecessary border constraints are deterring passengers and suppressing the resumption of air travel in the Middle East. 

“We are starting to see some governments in the Middle East open their borders to regional and international air travel,” said Muhammad Albakri, IATA’s Regional Vice President for Africa and the Middle East. “This is good news but those flying for the first time since the lifting of restrictions face an array of different types of biosafety measures and procedures, which is causing confusion among passengers and delaying the recovery.”

A number of countries in the Middle East have implemented testing, for example, but in many cases these do not meet accepted criteria. Additionally, the disparity of testing requirements among countries along with the difference in costs is causing confusion for passengers. In some cases, both a departure and arrival test are required, in some cases two, costing more than $150. 

Testing should be:

  • Accurate, fast and scalable
  • Cost-effective and not add a barrier to travel. As agreed by governments in the World Health Organization’s International Health Regulations, there should be no charge for mandatory testing and voluntary testing charged at cost-price
  • Carried out prior to travel to keep people who test positive completely out of the travel system
  • Recognized by the arrival state. 

“An effective COVID-19 test has the potential to be a useful risk mitigation measure,” said Albakri. “However, tests that neither meet the criteria of speed, scalability and reliability nor are offered at reasonable cost, as we are seeing in some countries in the region, have unintended consequences, causing more problems than they solve and will most likely limit the recovery in air travel demand.”

Moreover, 28 countries in the Middle East have government-imposed quarantine measures in place. With over 80% of passengers unwilling to travel when quarantine is required, if this measure remains in place once borders are fully opened and international commercial flights have resumed, countries effectively remain in lockdown.

Reliable contact tracing would be a strong layer of protection against the spread of the virus. But some countries in the region have mandated paper-based forms to collect travelers’ contact information. Airlines have been required to distribute and collect the forms.

“The collection of self-declared passenger health data is a transaction that must occur solely between passengers and authorities, even more so during health outbreaks,” Albakri concludes. “Airlines should not be responsible for collecting this data. We urge governments to develop web portals dedicated to collect passenger health data. This is the safest, most robust and efficient solution for passengers to provide necessary data to authorities during the COVID-19 crisis and in the future.”

Picture Credit | iStock