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IATA: aviation needs incentives balanced with control measures

Analysis

IATA has commented widely on the measures being taken to stop the spread of disease(s) during air travel; particularly on those offered by ICAO, effectively the world’s air transport regulator, and the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC).

In addition, governments are uniformly promoting measures such as the wearing of masks and social distancing, including within airports, the majority of which are still government-owned.

IATA is pushing for economic incentives for people to start travelling to be given equal weighting, with a ‘layered’ approach to quarantine measures.

IATA’s Director General remains confident about the long-term future of the industry because it “fulfils the human need for connection”.

Summary

  • IATA supports measures taken by ICAO and WTTC.
  • But IATA believes there is now a credible case for kick-starting foreign tourism again, employing a ‘layered’ approach to quarantine measures such as health declarations and screenings.
  • While IATA remains confident of the industry’s future, striking a balance between reassuring and inconveniencing passengers is difficult.

“Combination of measures” offers protections needed

IATA director general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac has offered an overview on collective measures to stop the spread of diseases during air travel, and specifically the COVID-19 virus, and on economic incentives to encourage travel, amongst other matters.

He stated on 24-Jun-2020 that he believes that the combination of measures being introduced to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission "offers the protections needed to be a credible way forward for governments" to reopen to travel and tourism.

Governments seem to be the sticking point at the moment, as many insist on retaining quarantine regulations on their own citizens and on visitors.

Mr de Juniac said the ‘ICAO Take-off’ guidelines (https://www.icao.int/covid/cart/Pages/CART-Take-off.aspx) will reduce the chance of infections while people are travelling, and the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) 'Safe Travel’ protocols can be applied across the travel and tourism sector to lower risks.

In addition, there are measures that individual governments are taking across the population to stop the spread of the virus, including mask-wearing and social distancing. Social distancing appears to be in the process of being downgraded in some places, for example in the UK, to help re-establish the hospitality industry, and in some countries it has never been applied. Whether this experiment in relaxation will endure will take a few weeks to determine.

Two objectives in assessing the need for quarantine period

Mr de Juniac added that he believes the economic incentive to allow foreign tourists "is valid", with travel and tourism "a critical sector".

However, Mr de Juniac said IATA fully understands that "after taking severe pain in the lockdown phase, no country wants to import COVID-19", and IATA is not suggesting that governments with quarantine measures in place should simply open their borders. Instead, the association is suggesting that governments who assess the need for quarantine should consider a layering of measures with two objectives:

1. Prevent infected people from flying. Airlines can support this with flexible conditions for rebooking, while health declarations and eventually COVID-19 testing for arrivals from high-risk areas offer extra layers of protection.

(Pre-departure [24/48 hours] testing and certification by accredited authorities would appear to be the better option; arrival testing could be uncertain, especially if allocated to private sector third parties.

There is also an argument that, if airline in-cabin air circulation and other cross-infection preventative measures are as good as godd as stated, or will be, it should not be necessary to prevent people from flying. Rather, it should perhaps be up to governments to decide if they should be admitted).

2. Prevent clusters from forming in the case that an infected person does travel. Contact tracing will help with this process. While the costs of contact tracing are significant, they are "far lower than the cost of keeping the travel and tourism business in lockdown".

Avoiding quarantine measures is IATA's goal

IATA urged governments specifically to avoid quarantine measures when reopening their economies.

IATA stated that it is promoting this layered approach of measures to reduce the risk of countries importing COVID-19 via air travel and to mitigate the possibility of transmission in cases where people may travel while unknowingly being infected.

The association is calling for the following measures to reduce the risk of imported cases via travellers:

  • Discouraging symptomatic passengers from travelling: it is important passengers do not travel when ill. To encourage passengers to "do the right thing" and stay home if they are unwell or potentially exposed, airlines are offering travellers flexibility in adjusting their bookings. 
  • Public health risk mitigation measures: IATA supports health screening by governments in the form of health declarations. To avoid privacy issues and cut the risk of infection with paper documents, standardised contactless electronic declarations via government web portals or government mobile applications are recommended.
  • Health screening using measures such as non-intrusive temperature checks can also play an important role. Although temperature checks are not the most effective screening method for COVID-19 symptoms, they can act as a deterrent to people travelling while they are unwell. Temperature checks can also shore up passenger confidence: in a recent IATA survey of travellers, 80% indicated that temperature checks make them feel safer when travelling.
  • COVID-19 testing for travellers from countries perceived to be of "higher risk": When accepting travellers from countries where the rate of new infections is significantly higher, the arrival authority could consider COVID-19 testing. It is recommended that tests are undertaken before arrival at the departure airport with documentation to prove a negative result. Tests would need to be widely available and highly accurate, with results delivered quickly. Test data would need to be independently validated, so as to be mutually recognised by governments and securely transmitted to the relevant authorities. Testing should be for active virus rather than for antibodies or antigens.

Mitigating risk in cases where an infected person does travel

  • Reducing the risk of transmission during the air travel journey: IATA encourages the universal implementation of the ICAO 'Take-Off' guideline, which is a temporary risk-based and multi-layered approach to mitigate the risks of transmitting COVID-19 during air travel.
    The guidelines are closely aligned with the recommendations of EASA and the US FAA. These include mask-wearing throughout the travel process, sanitisation, health declarations and social distancing where possible.
  • Contact tracing: this is the back-up measure, should someone be detected as infected after arrival. Rapid identification and isolation of contacts contains the risk without large scale economic or social disruption. New mobile technology has the potential to automate part of the contact tracing process, provided privacy concerns can be addressed.
  • Reducing risk of transmission at destination: governments are taking measures to limit the spread of the virus in their territory that will also mitigate the risk from travellers. In addition, the World Travel and Tourism Council 'Safe Travel' protocols provide a pragmatic approach for the hospitality sector to enable safe tourism and restore traveller confidence. Areas of the industry covered by the protocols include hospitality, attractions, retail, tour operators, and meeting planners.

On the subject of long term outcomes, Mr de Juniac disagrees with those who say the COVID-19 crisis will result in travel being changed or reduced forever. Although business travellers "will question their travel habits" and leisure travel will be "impacted by economic uncertainty", the long term prospects are solid, "because we fulfil the fundamental human needs for connection and mobility".

Mr de Juniac did note that it is "going to be a very rough rest of 2020 and probably 2021" and he reiterated that "the need for government relief measures remains urgent".

It's interesting to note in this context that the degree of difficulty and stress attached to travel will be a determining factor for passengers, a point emphasised in this report on Istanbul Airport’s preparedness: Istanbul Airport's ‘Safe Travel’ illustrates airport challenges.

Breaking point had almost been reached by way of the measures imposed to combat terrorism.

If a new terrorist threat were suddenly to emerge, one that perpetuated and worsened security queues already lengthened by social distancing, so that, say, three-hour advance check-in became the norm – that would tilt the balance even more against passenger willingness to endure the check in processes.

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