Battling the COVID-19 crisis is the world’s top priority. Airlines are committed to the fight. We have partnered with governments and other stakeholders to deliver vaccines under strict time and temperature standards. And we have implemented recommendations from the International Civial Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) throughout the travel process to keep passengers and crew safe.
At this particularly critical juncture, with vaccines rolling out and new virus variants emerging, many governments are imposing further restrictions that prevent travel. Linking the world by air at pre-COVID-19 levels appears anything but imminent.
Re-connecting is not just about airlines. It’s about the tens of millions of people whose jobs have been lost or are at risk from the pandemic. It’s about addressing the immeasurable social and mental toll caused by loss of income, lockdowns and family separations. It’s about the global connectivity being crippled by the most devastating pandemic in living memory.
But if we work together – the air transport sector, governments and health experts - we can get the world flying again.
Partnership with governments is key
We know how much the freedom to travel means to individuals, businesses, economies and nations. That’s why we are partnering with governments so that there is no delay in starting aviation when the epidemiological situation allows.
Partnerships with government are not new to aviation. It is the cornerstone of how we made flying the safest form of long-distance travel. We now aim to have country-level roadmaps to re-opening borders without quarantine that factor in vaccination, testing capacity and virus prevalence.
“We can see the light at the end of the tunnel as vaccination programs roll out. But a safe and orderly re-start will require careful planning and coordination by governments and industry, and we still face immense challenges containing the spread of new variants. Understanding government benchmarks and agreeing global standards will ensure that air transport is well-prepared and does not become a meaningful vector for reimportation. Airlines are ready to support governments in this task,” said Alexandre de Juniac, past IATA’s Director General and CEO.
Building blocks for reconnecting the world
- Roadmaps for reconnecting
- Biosafety measures
- Financial aid
Roadmaps for reconnecting
As governments consider the roadmaps to re-establishing the freedom to travel, several key elements will be considered:
- Vaccinations: most governments are pursuing a vaccination strategy to protect their health care workers and most vulnerable populations first. IATA supports re-opening borders to travel when this has been achieved, as the greatest risks will have been mitigated. Several governments have proposed that vaccinated individuals should be immediately exempted from travel restrictions and quarantine. See our Vaccines and Air Travel Position Paper (pdf)
- Vaccine harmonization: a globally standardized approach is critical, particularly with regard to equivalent treatment of different vaccines and mutual recognition and acceptance of vaccination certificates. ICAO, WHO and CAPSCA are taking the lead in this development.
- Testing: many governments are implementing testing regimes to facilitate travel, which IATA supports. While rapid antigen tests are preferred for their speed and cost advantages, it is clear that PCR testing will play a role as many governments are requiring tests within a 48- to 72-hour window prior to travel. The OECD is laying the foundation for a global framework to help governments trust testing data based on mutual recognition of testing results. A trusted framework will ensure that travelers are not caught in the middle when governments do not recognize each other’s testing regimes. Standardizing the appropriate testing certificates is also essential.
- Crew: The ICAO-CART guidance recommends that crew be exempted from testing processes and restrictions designed for passengers. IATA supports crew health management protocols which include, for example, regular testing and health checks at home bases, along with strict guidelines limiting interaction with the local community during crew layovers. This enables airlines to manage the risks of COVID-19 while maintaining operational viability.
- The IATA Travel Pass: IATA is building the information infrastructure to safely re-start travel with the IATA Travel Pass. This solution will help governments, airlines and individual travelers manage vaccine or testing requirements with accurate information, secure identification and verified data. Pilot programs are underway with a growing number of partnerships. See our Travel Pass media kit.
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 WHO, public health authorities, IATA, airports, manufacturers and other key stakeholders have been collaborating through 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
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 approximately $200 billion in 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