Bahrain’s decision not to lock down last year during the pandemic and to continue allowing passenger connectivity has been praised by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
The global airline industry body highlighted the effective way the kingdom handled the crisis by offering Covid-19 PCR tests for all arriving passengers instead of closing its borders.
In addition, Bahrain opened its new multi-million dinar passenger terminal building that will give a major boost to the aviation industry as the world reopens post-Covid-19 and the tourism sector starts to rebound.
“The strong leadership of Bahrain’s Crown Prince Prime Minister, His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, was evident in the way Bahrain handled the crisis,” IATA spokesperson, Katherine Kaczynska exclusively told the GDN.
“The leadership’s commitment to ensuring national airline Gulf Air was able to keep flying throughout underlines the important role that aviation plays in the kingdom’s economy.
“Bahrain was one of the first countries to remove a 10-day quarantine requirement for travellers arriving in the country, recognising that Covid-19 PCR testing was an effective way to mitigate the risk of virus transmission.”
She said the global aviation industry welcomed the news of the terminal opening in Muharraq during this difficult time.
“The new terminal will provide vital capacity and capabilities to cargo operators shipping essential vaccines and PPE equipment immediately and open the door for increased connectivity once passenger traffic starts to pick up,” she added.
Ms Kaczynska said Bahrain took another major step as its national carrier, Gulf Air showed industry leadership by becoming one of the first global airlines to trial the proposed IATA Travel Pass.
“With the trial Gulf Air is helping global aviation to get back on its feet by giving governments the confidence to safely reopen borders and reconnect people.”
She said a total of 25 airlines have signed up for the trial.
The iOS launch is believed to be available in the coming days and the Android launch is set for next month.
Ms Kaczynska said development and trails are ‘progressing well’, with Singapore announcing accepting pre-departure PCR test results on the Pass from May 1.
The IATA Travel Pass is a mobile application that helps travellers to store and manage their verified certifications for Covid-19 tests or Covid-19 vaccines in a secure manner linked to their identity in a digital passport.
She said Gulf countries are at the forefront of preparations with Gulf Air, Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways already piloting the IATA Travel Pass.
“To be ready for when governments reopen borders, we are working as fast as we can with our member airlines to bring this to the market,” added Ms Kaczynska.
However, there is a daunting task ahead as Ms Kaczynska said the Middle East aviation sector posted losses of $7.1billion last year – a loss of $68.47 for each passenger flown.
The ongoing crisis further puts more than 1.7 million jobs in the Middle East and $105bn in GDP at risk – despite cost-cutting and restructuring of airline operations.
“We don’t expect the Middle East traffic to recover to pre-Covid levels until 2024,” said Ms Kaczynska.
“A financially viable air transport sector will be needed to energise the recovery and governments that have provided relief will need to be prepared for more.
“And, governments that have not yet stepped up must recognise the growing risk to their economies as the crisis drags on.”
She explained restarting aviation safely after a year or more in crisis will need careful preparations so that governments and industries understand key benchmarks to facilitate the lifting of travel restrictions.
This, she said, calls for authorities to talk to each other so that all parties are aligned and ready for a restart.
“We see two areas as critical where co-operation is essential – the first is in operations that will include bringing aircraft and terminals back into service.
“Airlines need to ready their crews, technical personnel and aircraft because after a year of many staying grounded it will require refresher training and checks.
“The second is in test and travel credentials. Testing and vaccinations will play a role in opening borders to travel as the pandemic comes under control.”
Ms Kaczynska stressed that simple, efficient and harmonised standards for passenger credentials required for travel will boost consumer confidence and give strength to the recovery.
Already Bahrainis and expats living in the kingdom who have taken the freely available Covid-19 vaccines receive a vaccination certificate via the Be Aware application on their mobile devices.
The GDN reported this week that a quarter of a million people in Bahrain have received both doses of a Covid-19 vaccine, and now proudly sport the “Green Shield” on the app.
Specifically related to the Middle East, the IATA spokesperson said the regional carriers are major global connectors and with many borders remaining closed they will not be able to resume full operations.
“Vaccines may help open borders along with testing but the slow pace of vaccine programmes in many countries is not encouraging,” admitted Ms Kaczynska.
“In addition, there is not yet a way to effectively manage proof of vaccine for travel.
“International digital standards do not yet exist which means scalability could be an issue as people use paper certificates which can be open to fraud, take time to process and are less likely to give governments the confidence to fully reopen borders.”
Bahrain’s tourism industry suffered an estimated BD1 billion blow as a result of the outbreak of Covid-19 and the restrictions put in place to help prevent its spread.