Airlines are planning their return to the skies as global lockdowns lift, but governments must also do their bit, says Nick Careen, IATA senior vice president, airports, passenger, cargo and security
The collapse in air traffic as a result of the Covid-19 crisis has been unprecedented in the history of aviation. We expect air passenger demand to be down around 55 per cent globally for 2020, and that is based on an assumption that traffic starts rebounding in the second half of the year. At the moment, that is only a hope—we do not yet know when and how governments will relax the lockdowns that have been placed to help us beat Covid-19.
We in the aviation sector applaud the heroic efforts being performed by all frontline staff around the world as they grapple with this terrible virus. Their hard work and sacrifices, and the discipline being shown by ordinary people in abiding by social distancing rules, are bringing the infection rate down.
Aviation has also played a part, bringing in vital medical materials and keeping essential supply chains open. Now we are seeing light at the end of the tunnel and attention is moving to how we can restart the global economy, while protecting these hard-won gains against Covid-19.
The severe impact of halting air traffic has devastated many airlines. Some have been forced to cease operations and file for bankruptcy. Many more are struggling to stay in business. Thousands of workers have been furloughed or laid off. Fleets have been reduced. Our partners in the airport, air navigation, manufacturing, ground handling and other sectors are similarly suffering. It is fair to say that aviation is not going to be the same again.
Moreover, restarting aviation in these circumstances is far from easy. It is not like flicking a switch back on. There are many things that need to be done to bring aircraft safely back into service, crew brought back up to speed and to reboot back-office systems and infrastructure. This is before we consider the new requirements that governments will be putting in place to protect public health.
To help governments and regulators with their planning, IATA has been bringing the industry together to forge common positions. We facilitated a number of summits in different global regions, and we’ve published a joint approach with Airports Council International (ACI) on the measures airports and airlines are implementing. We’ve also worked with the World Health Organisation (WHO), the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and others to aim for harmonised regulations across the world.
As we move towards the restart, public health and safety is our top priority. We are pursuing a layered approach designed to prevent infection on board as well as reduce the risk that airlines become a source of re-infection into a country. In terms of the elements we are recommending for airlines, the measures include:
The wearing of face coverings for passengers and masks for crew while on board aircraft
Boarding and deplaning processes that reduce contact with other passengers or crew
Limiting movement within the cabin during flight
More frequent and deeper cabin cleaning
Simplified catering procedures that lower crew movement and interaction with passengers
It is important to remember that modern passenger jets rank alongside hospital operating theatres for their air circulation and filtration systems and the high quality of air they provide, with the entire supply passing through High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) air filters, which are 99.97 per cent effective in blocking airborne viruses.
With these precautions in place, coupled with the procedures airports are introducing, we believe that more stringent measures, such as enforced testing for Covid-19 at the airport, quarantine on arrival, or banning the use of the middle seat on board, are not required.
If governments implement such measures, we urge that these be removed once the prescribed safety procedures, outlined above, have been implemented.
Another priority for governments is to develop robust contact tracing, a cornerstone of preventative medicine that will help in the fight against Covid-19. This matters because in a best-case scenario, air demand will not recover to 2019 levels until 2023.
Once governments set out their restart strategies, we are hopeful that more flights will be authorised and that the world can start to get moving again, a matter of supreme importance. There isn’t an aspect of modern life that aviation doesn’t impact in some way and more than 65 million jobs are dependent on air transport.
We believe the desire for people to travel, do business, and share experiences face to face will be even more sharpened by the fact it has been denied us by this virus. It will take several years, but air travel will return to growth.
We’re determined that as it does, it will do so safely and sustainably, giving us a greater opportunity to build a stronger air transport network. The chance to explore the world is a precious thing, something previous generations in history could only dream about. As we recover from this terrible crisis, we owe it to ourselves to ensure that the freedom to fly is not only restored, but enhanced, for all.