Director General's blog
  • Policy
10 February 2021

Getting ready to partner with Governments to safely reopen borders


Portuguese (pdf)

We ended 2020 with hopes that the rollout of coronavirus vaccines would signal the return of many personal freedoms, including the freedom to travel.

Airlines would like nothing more than to get back to the business of bringing our world together. And I believe that people are eager to take to the skies as well. Almost every conversation that I have with someone outside the industry eventually includes a question about when we can start flying again. Some want to re-connect with friends and family. Others are pursuing a vital business or educational opportunity. And many just want to refresh by exploring another part of the world.

For now, however, pretty much all these desires are on hold. The focus of governments is almost universally on containing the spread of the virus across borders. There is little hope of an imminent return to normal. We understand that. But we want to be prepared to reconnect the world as soon as governments believe it is safe to do so.

Getting the world flying again is about much more than self-interest. The livelihoods of 11.3 million people around the world directly depend on aviation. Another 76.4 million more jobs are in aviation-dependent tourism. And considering aviation’s role in fostering trade and cross-border investment, it’s not difficult to see that air connectivity will be needed to energize the global economic recovery from COVID-19.

The good news is that the components required to safely reopen borders when the epidemiological situation allows are becoming clearer.

  • Bio-safety. Since the pandemic began (it’s hard to believe it’s more than a year ago) we, together with other industry stakeholders and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), have developed step-by-step processes to minimize the risk of infection during air travel. These measures have already been largely implemented by regulators throughout the world.
  • Vaccines. Each person vaccinated brings us a step closer to defeating the virus. And once healthcare workers and vulnerable groups in society (the elderly or those with health pre-conditions) have been vaccinated, science tells us that the main risks will have been averted. In fact, several governments have identified this as the point where they will consider lifting travel restrictions, including quarantine.
  • Testing capacities are rapidly expanding. That’s good because more governments are requiring travellers to be tested. And confidence in the various testing methodologies is strengthening—including both PCR and Antigen.
  • Standards. Whether it’s testing or vaccinations, our experience with the current paper “yellow book” for managing health credentials has too many limitations to work in the COVID-19 context. Smart Vaccine Certificates are being developed by the WHO and ICAO. And the OECD is now laying the foundation for a global framework to help governments trust testing data based on mutual recognition of testing results. The challenge here is bringing this work to a quick conclusion so that governments can adopt and implement them.
  • IATA Travel Pass. Whatever governments plans are, we’ll be ready to help them with the IATA Travel Pass. It is the digital infrastructure to support a world in which we need verified health credentials to travel. The IATA Travel Pass will give travelers the solution to securely store and present their verified vaccine or testing information to governments and airlines as needed. IATA has been in the business of providing entry requirement information for decades. And global standards are in our DNA. So, we are very confident that the IATA Travel Pass will be a reliable solution for all concerned.

While a framework for re-connecting the world may be summarized in five bullet points, we know that implementation will be much more complex. That’s because governments will want to ensure that any re-opening of borders does not bring the risk of importing COVID-19. We get that. Aviation’s history since its inception a century ago testifies to our expertise at effectively managing risks while growing connectivity. In partnership with other aviation stakeholders and safety regulators, we have made aviation the safest form of long-distance travel the world has ever known. We will find a way to extend this success into the COVID-19 world.

This virus will not separate us forever. There is light at the end of this very long tunnel. After a year of lockdowns, our mission to connect people globally is more important than ever. We are the business of freedom that we all long for.



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