Saturday,  September 26, 2020  10:37 pm

IATA calls for open borders

  • Air
  •   09-01-2020  1:39 pm
  •   Pax Global Media

IATA calls for open borders
Pax Global Media

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is calling on governments to work together to urgently find ways to restore global connectivity by reopening borders and to continue with relief measures to support airlines during the COVID-19 crisis. 

More specifically, IATA calls on governments to understand the gravity of the crisis facing the airline industry and its consequences for their citizens; and IATA urges governments to focus their attention on these key issues:

  • Reopen the borders.
  • Continuation of emergency measures.
  • Global leadership.

“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,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.

Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO. (Supplied)

The IATA appeal is a reflection of the industry's deep frustration as government policies such as border closures, travel restrictions and quarantines continue to wipe out travel demand. In the period from May to June, four in five potential travellers stayed at home, based on comparisons with the period the previous year.

  • Total traffic for July 2020 was 79.8% lower than 2019 levels.
  • International traffic in July 2020 was 91.9% lower than 2019 levels.

Reopening of borders

The world remains largely closed to travel despite the availability of global protocols to enable the safe restart of aviation (take-off guide) developed by governments under the leadership of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO ) with the support of the World Health Organization (WHO). 

This guide covers all aspects of passenger travel and recommends health measures to ensure the safety of travellers and reduce the risk of importation of infection.

“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,” said de Juniac.

IATA offers travel bubbles to mitigate risk between specific markets and anticipates a much broader and strategic use of COVID-19 testing as the 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,” said de Juniac.

IATA proposes a three-point action plan for governments to reopen borders safely:

  1. Implement the ICAO Take-off guidance universally.
  2. 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.
  3. 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,” said de Juniac.

Relief measures

With the exception of some domestic markets, there has been evidence of an early recovery in the industry. Airlines continue to lose billions of dollars and face tough 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,” said de Juniac.

IATA urges governments to focus relief efforts in two areas:

  • Financial aid 

Faced with an industrial loss of $84.3 billion this year, a 50% reduction in revenues and high fixed costs for aircraft and labour, the financial viability of many airlines is being put back in question. Government assistance has been a vital lifeline. But the relief that has been given is quickly running out. 

Government measures to provide additional financial cushions against failure will be essential, and these must not increase already skyrocketing 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," IATA explains. 

Many governments, including China, Brazil, Mexico, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand, have granted waivers for the winter 2020 season (October 2020-March 2021), acknowledging the severe constraints on the timing of planning during this time of extreme disruption. 

“Unfortunately, the European Commission (EC), which many governments look to for leadership on air transport policies, is under-estimating the severity of the crisis and dragging its feet," IATA says. 

Alexandre de Juniac adds:

“The European Commission’s delay in granting a full-season waiver of the 80-20 slot rule for the Northern Hemisphere winter season is bad for everyone. Airlines and airports will scramble while consumer uncertainty will only increase. As the Commission returns from its summer activities, granting a full-season waiver should be at the top of the aviation priority list,” said de Juniac.

Don't miss a single travel story: subscribe to PAX today!