Iata urges uniform biosafety rules as Mideast aviation restarts
Global body promoting layered approach of measures to reduce risk of countries importing Covid-19 via air travel
Closely following its grimmer warning that the global air travel would not return to pre-Covid levels until 2024, the International Air Transport Association (Iata) on Wednesday urged governments in the Middle East to implement uniform biosafety measures for passengers as aviation restarts.
"We are starting to see some governments in the Middle East open their borders to regional and international air travel. This is good news but those flying for the first time since the lifting of restrictions face an array of different types of biosafety measures and procedures - which is causing confusion among passengers and delaying the recovery," said Muhammad Albakri, Iata's regional vice-president for Africa and the Middle East.
Forecasting a gloomier global aviation outlook on Tuesday, Iata said passenger traffic worldwide fell by 86.5 per cent in June 2020 compared to the same period last year. This compares with a 91 per cent contraction in May.
The global body of airlines has predicted that Middle East carriers would lose $24 billion in passenger revenue this year, up from an earlier estimate of $19 billion, while the combined losses to the regional carriers was forecast to be $4.8 billion this year. Across the world, the aviation market will lose $84.3 billion this year as revenues plummet 50 per cent down to $419 billion, it said.
The Middle East could see 1.2 million job losses in aviation and related industries, while aviation's contribution to the region's GDP could fall by $66 billion from $130 billion, according to the Iata.
The body said a global framework for restarting aviation while protecting public health has been agreed by the International Civil Aviation Organization.
"However, inconsistent application of these biosafety measures along with unnecessary border constraints are deterring passengers and suppressing the resumption of air travel in the Middle East."
"An effective Covid-19 test has the potential to be a useful risk mitigation measure. However, tests that neither meet the criteria of speed, scaleability and reliability nor are offered at reasonable cost, as we are seeing in some countries in the region, have unintended consequences, causing more problems than they solve and will most likely limit the recovery in air travel demand," said Albakri.
A number of countries in the Middle East have implemented testing, but in many cases these do not meet the criteria outlined by the Iata. Additionally, the disparity of testing requirements among countries along with the difference in costs is causing confusion for passengers. In some cases, both a departure and arrival test are required, in some cases costing in excess of $150.
Albakri said imposing quarantine measures on arriving passengers would keep countries in isolation and the travel and tourism sector in lockdown, and urged governments to avoid quarantine measures when re-opening their economies.
As an alternative Iata is promoting a layered approach of measures to reduce the risk of countries importing Covid-19 via air travel and to mitigate the possibility of transmission in cases where people may travel while unknowingly being infected.
Some 28 countries in the Middle East have government-imposed quarantine measures in place. "With over 80 per cent of passengers unwilling to travel when quarantine is required, the impact of these measures is that countries remain in lockdown even if their borders are open."
Saj Ahmad chief analyst at StrategicAero Research, said forecasts for the industry are now "dire".
"Iata has, throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, had to re-adjust downwards because of how debilitating the pandemic has been on the entire industry, as well as associated industries like tourism, catering, hotels and others. It knows that we're navigating through an unprecedented crisis unlike none that has ever been endured," he told Khaleej Times on Wednesday.
Iata's desire to homogenise policies across the globe, he adds, will go a long way to trying to normalise travel for those that still have to fly.
"Whether this be from a cargo standpoint, as well as airport policies on temperature tests, mask and glove usage as well as disinfecting and cleaning all areas where passengers traverse, this is what needs to happen until such time some sort of medicinal suppressant or cure for this virus emerges."
"Critically, the Iata has to lead the industry too; it needs to work supporting highly skilled jobs, that if lost, will be hard to replace when a rebound eventually returns. This could be via direct governmental assistance or directly with airline partners. As it stands, this challenging time shows no signs of ending and a collective strategy towards normalising traffic has to be a priority to reduce risk for passengers and crews, as well as airports and associated industries.
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