The International Air Transport Association (IATA) chief Alexandre de Juniac delivered his take on the state of the industry at the IATA annual general meeting held virtually on Nov. 24. The executive called on airlines and other industry stakeholders for immediate action in working to open up the skies and get the industry to move forward.
In his speech, he recalled the devastating impact that COVID-19 has had in the airline industry, with international passenger numbers down 89% from 2019 levels and expected industrywide compounded losses of almost $120 billion as airlines continue to operate under reduced schedules as border closures, quarantine restrictions and fear of the virus continue to keep many people out of travel.
In order to get people back to the skies, De Juniac believes that industry stakeholders should work on ensuring passenger safety and reopening borders in order to get more people to get back flying.
On the safety side, IATA has collaborated with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to create a multilayered approach that provides a series of guidelines for airports and airlines to use to increase passenger safety throughout the travel experience and mitigate risk. For example, for airports, ICAO provides a set of recommendations regarding terminal disinfection, staff protection and social distancing.
For airlines, ICAO recommends spacing out the boarding process, suspend food and beverage service on short-haul flights and offer prepackaged food and beverage services on long haul flights in order to limit the interaction between passengers and crew. The international authority also recommends airlines designate toilets based on seat assignment in order to prevent passengers from walking across the cabin to use a toilet that is further away from where they are seated.
Going Beyond Aviation
However, no matter how safe most passengers feel during the flight, that may not matter if there continues to be a lack of articulation in government coordination regarding travel. This is because of issues having to do with the asymmetry of information, lack of clarity and constantly changing travel advice, which have put most people off travel, especially when they can’t be sure they will be able to get to where they want to go.
Along this line, IATA believes that governments should continue to look at testing as a viable alternative to clear entry requirements. While testing does not guarantee one is not bringing the virus into a country as it does not necessarily detect the very early stages of the infection, it significantly decreases the probability of infected passengers traveling internationally.
According to IATA, some high performing tests being tested in Europe would only miss five COVID-19 cases in every 20,000 travelers. Countries can combine testing with the development of travel bubbles with other countries that have managed to control the spread of the virus to increase economic activity across closed knitted nations.
However, as shown by the recent suspension of the soon to be launched travel bubble between the Asian hubs of Singapore and Hong Kong, having the virus fully under control is a complex task and perhaps will only be possible with a widespread vaccine rollout. Until then, testing can reduce probabilities and if combined with quarantine, nearly eliminate them. However not absolutely.