The full extent of the damage caused by COVID-19 may never be known. 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 we have to safely reconnect people by reopening borders without quarantine.
And we have a plan to do this responsibly by carefully managing risks.
Safely reconnecting the world - the plan
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:
- Wearing face covering, contactless check-in, health screening at airports, physical distancing where possible
- Enhanced cleaning and disinfection processes (pdf)
- On-board cabin architecture including hospital-grade HEPA filters and air flow direction
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.
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.
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.
For more information
- COVID-19: resources for airlines & air transport professionals
- All that passengers need to know about air travel in COVID-19