The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has called on governments to come together and find a way to re-establish global connectivity by re-opening borders and to continue with relief measures to sustain airlines during the COVID-19 crisis.
The call reflects a deep frustration in the industry, as government policies such as closed borders, travel restrictions and quarantines stand in the way and recovery of travel demand.
This latest move came on September 1, as the northern hemisphere’s summer begins to give way to autumn. IATA said its airline members’ frustration was evident in a disappointing “peak (northern hemisphere) summer travel season” that brought minimal improvements compared to the May-June period, as four in five potential travellers stayed home, based on comparisons with a year-ago. (July 2020 total traffic was 79.8% below 2019 levels while International traffic in July 2020 was 91.9% below 2019 levels).
Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO, said “Protecting their citizens must be the top priority of governments. But too many governments are fighting a global pandemic in isolation with a view that closing borders is the only solution. It’s time for governments to work together to implement measures that will enable economic and social life to resume, while controlling the spread of the virus.”
The group thereby calls on governments “specifically” to grasp the seriousness of the crisis facing the airline industry and its consequences for their citizens and focus their attention on the below mentioned key issues:
- Re-opening borders
- Continuing relief measures
- Global leadership
IATA revealed that the world is still closed to travel despite the availability of global protocols to enable the safe re-start of aviation which is the (Take-off guidance), developed by governments through the leadership of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) with the support of the World Health Organization (WHO).
de Juniac said “Airlines have been largely grounded for a half-year. And the situation is not improving. In fact, in many cases it is going in the wrong direction. We see governments replacing border closures with quarantine for air travelers. Neither will restore travel or jobs. Worse, governments are changing the entry requirements with little notice to travelers or coordination with their trading partners. This uncertainty destroys demand. Ten percent of the global economy is sustained by travel and tourism; governments need to do better to re-start it.”
IATA is proposing travel bubbles to mitigate risks between specific markets and foresees a much wider and strategic use of COVID-19 testing as technology improves accuracy, speed and scalability.
“No government wants to import COVID-19. Equally, no government should want to see the economic hardships and associated health impacts of mass unemployment. Successfully getting through this crisis requires careful risk-management with effective measures. If government policies focus on enabling a safe re-start, aviation is well-prepared to deliver. Risk-management is a well-developed discipline that airlines rely on to keep travel safe and secure.”
IATA proposes a three-point action plan for governments to safely re-open borders as follows:
- Implement the ICAO Take-off guidance universally.
- Build on the solid work of ICAO Council’s Aviation Recovery Task Force (CART) by developing an agreed common framework for states to use in coordinating the safe re-opening of their borders to aviation.
- Develop COVID-19 testing measures that will enable the re-opening of borders by reducing the risk of COVID-19 importation to what is acceptable to public health authorities with accuracy, speed and scalability that also meet the exacting requirements for incorporation into the travel process.
“As a participant in the ICAO CART, IATA will work with governments, medical experts and testing manufacturers to accelerate proposals specifically focused on using COVID-19 testing to re-build confidence, re-open borders, re-start aviation, re-charge demand and restore jobs. There is much at stake and no time to lose.”
Talking about relief measures, de Juniac stated that With the exception of some domestic markets there is little evidence of an early industry recovery. Airlines will continue to lose billions of dollars as they face difficult decisions to resize their operations and workforce for the future.
“Many airlines will not have the financial means to survive an indefinite shutdown that, for many, already exceeds a half-year. In these extraordinary times, governments will need to continue with financial and other relief measures to the greatest extent possible. It’s a solid investment in the recovery because each airline job saved supports 24 in the broader economy. And a functioning airline industry will be a critical enabler for economies to regain their full power.”
IATA thereby urges governments to focus relief measures in two areas:
- Financial Relief: Facing an industry loss of $84.3 billion this year, a 50% cut in revenues and high fixed costs for aircraft and labor, the financial viability of many airlines is in question. Government relief has been a critical lifeline. But what relief has been given is quickly running out. Government measures to provide additional financial buffers against failure will be critical, and these must not increase already ballooning debt levels.
- Regulatory Relief: The most urgent regulatory relief is a global waiver on the use-it-or-lose-it 80-20 slot rule. The severe uncertainty in the market means that airlines need the flexibility to adjust schedules to meet demand without the pressure of being penalized for not using allocated slots. Airlines cannot afford to fly empty planes when market demand drops. Similarly, they cannot pass up revenue when opportunities open up.