Covid-19: Light at the end of a very long tunnel for aviation industry, IATA CEO says
Recent IATA polls have showed that a growing number of travellers are ready to fly again within a few months of the pandemic being contained
Efficient and secure handling of traveller health credentials, as well as testing and vaccine certificates will be essential in aiding the recovery of the global aviation sector, said Alexandre de Juniac, director general and CEO of International Air Transport Association (IATA).
“We believe that vaccines play an important role in opening borders, but they are not a silver bullet,” he said in a virtual update on the Covid-19’s impact on the aviation industry. “Testing will also play a key role, since it will ensure that those who cannot, or prefer not to be vaccinated, will have an opportunity to travel.”
There are also a few more issues that will need to be addressed, he added. “The first is replacing quarantine with testing and vaccination requirements. As long as governments maintain quarantine requirements, there will be no restart. With ample testing capacity, testing to travel is the first option, and with more and more people getting vaccinated, there is a growing population of people that should be able to travel without restrictions.”
Another key element that is still missing, he noted, are secure digital standards for testing and vaccination certificates. There has been some progress that has been made towards this end, however there is still a need for global standards being worked on by the WHO and the OECD.
“Governments must also stay engaged,” he added. “The crisis is not over and there are two vital roles that governments must play. We will need continued relief measures particularly those that do not increase the debt burden; cost reduction will be a critical help; and eventually, stimulus. We will also need planning; we cannot restart this [aviation] industry at the flick of a switch. It will take long-term planning to take the aircraft out of long-term storage, to ensure crew qualifications, to recall laid off employees, to replace closed terminals, and so on. We can only be ready to energize the recovery from day one if governments have a plan and they share it with us.”
Offering some in-depth insights on the current status of the industry, de Juniac, noted that the Covid-19 pandemic continues to be a “global tragedy” and that what has happened in aviation over the past 12 months has been “nothing less than catastrophic.”
“Before the crisis, we had almost 30,000 unique international routes between airports. Now, we have about 12,000 and the density of those connections has become much thinner. Before, the average route was served by about 43 flights per month; now, it is at 20 flights per month, not even daily. The massive loss of connectivity depressed economies worldwide, essentially shutting down international tourism, conventions, and exhibitions,” he said.
Domestic travel, however, did better, he revealed. “The number of routes being served is basically unchanged, but we went from an average of 90 flights per route per month to 66. Overall, in terms of passenger demand we are back to 1998 levels – a 66 per cent fall from per-crisis levels. In terms of passenger revenue, we ended 2020 at 1993 levels. Cargo was a different story; it returned to 2019 levels by January. What is being shipped has changed with the crisis, but people still rely on the fast and efficient delivery of goods; and, this is certainly true when it comes to the critical role that cargo is playing in the delivery of vaccines.”
A viable air transport sector will be critical to energize recovery, he added. “Governments realise that and have provided vital relief measures to preserve the sector during the pandemic. In total, these measures are valued at $225 billion.”
A recent IATA poll of people that have travelled since June last year showed that 90 per cent believe that the airlines have done a good job in enforcing health safety rules, and 86 per cent reported that they felt safe while onboard. “Recently, we recorded that 57 per cent of travellers are ready to fly within a few months of the pandemic being contained. Efficiently and securely handling health credentials, vaccine and testing certificates will be essential. We believe that the IATA travel pass will play a major role in this. To sum up, there is light at the end of a very long tunnel; more and more people are being vaccinated, and this will play a major role in opening borders,” de Juniac said.
Alexandre de Juniac, who is stepping down as IATA’s director general and CEO at the end of March, also had some parting words on the importance of the global aviation sector.
“Millions of jobs depend on aviation; when we don’t fly they don’t exist,” he said. “We have seen the personal, emotional, and mental stress of being denied the freedom to fly. Aviation is the business of freedom – it provides amazing value to people and long may that inspire great stories.”
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