Aviation representatives push Middle East governments to use ‘global guidance’ for restart

ICAO, IATA, ACI Asia-Pacific team up for ‘safe and harmonised’ resumption of flying

(PHOTO: Etihad)

Airports Council International (ACI) Asia-Pacific and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) are joining the International Civil Aviation Organisation Middle East (ICAO MID) in urging the governments in the Middle East to rapidly implement ICAO’s global guidelines for restoring air connectivity to ensure the safe and harmonised restart of aviation in the region to help the industry overcome the lockdown in aviation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These guidelines are contained in Take-off: Guidance for Air Travel through the COVID-19 Public Health Crisis, which was approved by the ICAO Council on 1 June 2020.

A screenshot of the COVID-19 virus tracking site at Johns Hopkins University. To access the live site, click on the image. (PHOTO: Matt Driskill)

“Air connectivity is critical to economic and sustainable development in the Middle East (and) effective recovery of air transport in the region is essential to support the economy post COVID-19,” said ICAO’s acting regional director for the Middle East, Mohamed  Smaoui. “The key principles, recommendations and guidelines of CART Report and Take-off Document, provide governments with a framework for restarting aviation while protecting public health; and are intended to inform and align the COVID-19 recovery roadmaps established by states or industry. This is a ‘living guidance’ which will be continuously updated based on the latest medical and operational advice and risk assessments as the world starts to reconnect. Governments and industry stakeholders can have certainty as they take action to get the world flying again.”

“We are counting on governments in the Middle East to implement the ICAO Take-off Guidance quickly and in a harmonised and mutually recognised way, because the world wants to travel again and needs airlines to play a key role in the economic recovery,” said  Muhammad al Bakri, IATA’s regional vice president for Africa and the Middle East. ”The guidance recognises that social distancing is not possible on an aircraft, therefore supports face coverings as part of a layered risk mitigation approach. And recommends contact tracing which should give governments the confidence to open borders without quarantine measures. Local deviations and exceptions will damage public confidence and make it harder to operate effectively slowing down the industry restart. This would be harmful to public health and the economic recovery.”

“Safety and security are the industry’s main priority, and both are firmly entrenched into every airport’s operations and corporate culture. Building on this  track record, the ICAO Take-off Guidance document is fully aligned with our industry’s focus on passenger and employee wellbeing. We urge the Middle East states to swiftly implement the guidelines so we can ensure truly harmonised and effective measures across the region and passengers can return to air travel with confidence. As rightly stated in the ICAO guidance, states should continuously readjust the measures depending on their effectiveness to reduce the risk of transmission and scalability, especially as soon as traffic ramps up again to certain volumes of traffic. Airports need health authorities to work cooperatively with them to adapt physical distancing to specific layout and operations,” said Stefano Baronci, director general, ACI Asia-Pacific.

Impact of COVID-19 on Aviation in the Middle East

Social distancing in Dubai. (PHOTO: Emirates)

COVID-19 has devastated the air transport industry in the Middle East. Demand in terms of passenger volumes is forecast to fall 56 percent in 2020 year-on-year for airlines and 47 percent for airports. Airlines in the region are expected to post a net loss of US$4.8 billion this year as passenger revenues decline by US$24 billion compared to the previous year. Airports in the region estimated total revenue loss of US$7billion, representing a 52 percent year-on-year decline in 2020. Job losses in aviation and related industries in the region could reach 1.2 million and GDP supported by aviation could fall by US$66 billion. Before the COVID-19 crisis aviation supported 2.4 million jobs in the region and generated US$130 billion in GDP.

A Phased Approach

A medical and customs control team meets an Air Astana repatriation flight at Almaty airport with passengers from coronavirus-infected countries for quarantine. (PHOTO: Shutterstock)

The ICAO guidance proposes a phased approach to restarting aviation and identifies a set of generally applicable risk-based measures which, in line with recommendations and guidance from public health authorities, will mitigate the risk of transmission of the COVID-19 virus during the travel process.

Measures include:

  • Physical distancing to the extent feasible and implementation of adequate risk-based measures where distancing is not feasible, for example in aircraft cabins;
  • Wearing of face coverings and masks by passengers and aviation workers;
  • Routine sanitation and disinfection of all areas with potential for human contact and transmission;
  • Health screening, which could include pre- and post-flight self-declarations, as well as temperature screening and visual observation, “conducted by health professionals”;
  • Contact tracing for passengers and aviation employees: updated contact information should be requested as part of the health self-declaration, and interaction between passengers and governments should be made directly though government portals;
  • Passenger health declaration forms, including self-declarations in line with the recommendations of relevant health authorities. Electronic tools should be encouraged to avoid paper;
  • Testing: if and when real-time, rapid and reliable testing becomes available.

The organisations are also urging states to identify every opportunity where travel restrictions could be lifted, through bilateral or multilateral arrangements among countries – as soon as the epidemiological situation allows for it.

Supporting the Restart of the Industry

NZ regional airports
An empty airport shows the current state of the industry due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (PHOTO: Shutterstock)

ICAO, IATA and ACI Asia-Pacific also pledged their commitment to providing support to industry stakeholders in the region to help ensure implementation and compliance with the recommended ICAO Take-off Guidelines.

“Aviation is facing the biggest challenge of its history: safely restarting international connectivity while ensuring that aviation is not a meaningful source for the spread of COVID-19 is not an option but rather a necessity. We need all hands-on deck to get the industry up and running again and are committed to making the journey as seamless and risk free as possible. We will collaborate support states to implement these guidelines in the fastest and most efficient way and encourage governments and other industry stakeholders to reach out to us for support,” said IATA’s al Bakri.

IATA and ACI have also jointly produced a policy paper, Safely Restarting Aviation - ACI and IATA Joint Approach, that sets out the principles of recovering airport and airline operations in a safe manner. IATA and ACI Asia-Pacific are also working closely with the Arab Air Carriers Organisation (AACO) and the Arab Civil Aviation Organisation (ACAO) to support the safe restart of the industry in the Middle East.

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