International Air Transport Association (IATA) has suggested to the world’s governments to work with the global airline industry for which it is the representative body to prepare for the restart of international air travel, once it has been determined that national borders could be safely reopened. Currently, many countries have severe restrictions on such travel, in an attempt to contain the Covid-19 pandemic and especially the new variants of the disease.
IATA believed that such preparation involved three “critical” aspects including planning, health credentials and global standards. “Even as governments focus on managing the Covid-19 crisis, we must be thinking a step ahead to the plans, tools and standards needed to restart flying and energise the economic recovery from Covid-19. Working in partnership is nothing new for airlines or for governments. It’s how we have delivered safe, efficient, and reliable connectivity for decades,” highlighted IATA director-general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac. “With good news on vaccines and growing testing capacity, there is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. So, it’s time to ask governments for their restart plans and to offer any support from industry that could help.”
The first essential requirement was planning. To restart global aviation after 12 or more months of disruption would need thorough planning and preparation, IATA affirmed. Governments should work with airlines to develop the plans and benchmarks that would be needed to allow air travel to resume in a timely and orderly manner.
“The UK has set a good example,” cited De Juniac. “Recently it laid out a structure for reopening based on an improvement in the Covid-19 situation. This gives airlines a framework to plan the restart, even if it needs to be adjusted along the way. Other governments should take note as a best practice for working with industry.”
The rolling out of vaccinations and testing for Covid-19 made the issue of health credentials an essential one for the air travel industry. IATA had developed its own Travel Pass that allowed passengers to secure their health data yet share it with the proper authorities, when required. The Travel Pass was now being, or soon would be, tested by Air New Zealand, Copa Airlines, Etihad Airways, Emirates, Qatar Airways, Malaysia Airlines, Rwand-Air and Singapore Airlines, among others.
“Efficient digital management of health credentials is vital to restart,” he pointed out. “Manual processes will not be able to cope with volumes once the recovery begins. Digital solutions must be secure, work with existing systems, align with global standards and respect data privacy. In developing the IATA Travel Pass are fully in focus. The IATA Travel App will help to set the bar very high for managing health credentials, protecting against fraud and enabling a convenient travel process. While there is choice in the market for solutions, there should be no compromise on the fundamentals, or we risk failing systems, disappointed governments and travelers, and a delayed restart.”
The third required pillar for the restart of global air travel was global standards for recording tests and vaccinations, coupled with a plan to retrospectively include those who had already been vaccinated. The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) were working on such standards.
“Speed is critical,” he urged. “Fraudulent Covid-19 test results are already proving to be an issue. As vaccine programmes ramp up, governments are using paper processes and differing digital standards to record who has been vaccinated. These are not the conditions needed to support a successful restart at scale when governments open borders.”
At the same time, IATA also reported that it had become more pessimistic about the prospects for the sector during this year. Whereas, previously, it expected the airline industry to turn cash positive in the last quarter, now it predicted that the sector would not turn cash positive until next year.
Moreover, while IATA had previously forecast that the world’s airlines would burn $48-billion in cash this year, it now expected the cash burn for 2021 to range from a minimum of $75-billion to perhaps as much as $95-billion.
This was because governments had imposed stricter conditions for travel due to the emergence of new strains of the disease. “With governments having tightened border restrictions, 2021 is shaping up to be a much tougher year than previously expected,” said De Juniac.