TO RE-ESTABLISH GLOBAL CONNECTIVITY: Governments urged to reopen borders

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    Data from IATA showed airlines in Asia-Pacific including the Philippines saw passenger traffic dive 96.5 percent in July from a year ago — the steepest contraction among regions.

    The International Air Transport Association (IATA) urged governments to re-establish global connectivity to improve passenger demand amid the coronavirus pandemic.

    IATA’s call reflects deep industry frustration as government policies such as closed borders, travel restrictions and quarantines continue to annihilate travel demand.

    Global passenger demand collapsed 91.9 percent in July this year as compared to July 2019, a slight improvement over the 96.8 percent decline recorded in June.

    Airlines in Asia-Pacific including the Philippines saw passenger traffic dive 96.5 percent in July from a year ago, virtually unchanged from a 97.1 percent drop in June, and the steepest contraction among regions.

    Capacity fell 91.7 percent and load factor shrank 47.3 percentage points to 35.3 percent, IATA said.

    It added the world remains largely closed to travel despite the availability of global protocols to enable the safe re-start of aviation – through the take-off guidance – developed by governments through the leadership of the International Civil Aviation

    Organization, with the support of the World Health Organization.

    This guidance covers all aspects of the passenger journey and recommends sanitary measures to keep travelers safe and reduce the risk of importing 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,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA director general and chief executive officer.

    “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,” de Juniac said.

    In addition, IATA is proposing travel bubbles to mitigate risks between specific markets and foresees a much wider and strategic use of coronavirus disease 2019 (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,” said de Juniac.

    “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,” he added.

    IATA has proposed to develop an agreed common framework for states to use in coordinating the safe re-opening of their borders and develop a COVID-19 testing measure.

    “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.

    For this year, IATA has projected an industry loss of $84.3 billion, a 50 percent 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, IATA noted. Government measures to provide additional financial buffers against failure will be critical, and these must not increase already ballooning debt levels.

    “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 said.

    In the Philippines, operations of airlines remain limited to essential travel for overseas Filipino workers, foreign nationals with long term visa, students studying abroad, accredited officials, seafarers, among others.

    As for the domestic operation, leisure travel is still suspended.

    IATA represents some 290 airlines comprising 82 percent of global air traffic.