UPDATED-COVID-19: IATA chief opposes quarantine measures, says refund demands will destroy airlines

Trade group says economies will recover faster than international air travel but business confidence remains a key issue

14 May COVID-19 map
A screenshot of the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 tracking site taken on 14 May. To access the live site click on the image. (PHOTO: Matt Driskill)

AAV NewsletterThe head of the main trade association for the world’s airlines said in the group’s now weekly media call that it opposes government quarantines on arriving international passengers such as Britain and others are imposing because of the COVID-19 pandemic and said government measures forcing airlines to issue immediate refunds for cancelled flights will kill the industry. Alexandre de Juniac, director general of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), said the industry is “eager to fly and is making proposals to global governments to do it safely (but) we oppose governments introducing quarantine measures for arriving passengers…we have to say that international travel cannot restart under those conditions”.

Cathay Pacific
Airlines like Cathay Pacific have had to ground hundreds of planes as they deal with the fallout from the COVID-19 virus, which has a major impact on world tourism as countries have closed their borders. (PHOTO: Shutterstock)

De Juniac said IATA was working with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) on measures to come up with biosecurity measures that will make it safer for people to fly internationally. “Our top priority is to return this industry to flying safely and to give governments confidence to open their borders,” de Juniac said, adding that the effort needs to be coordinated and governments need to come up with “coordinated measures” that IATA has proposed before, but reiterated that the association was opposed to quarantines on arriving international passengers. De Juniac made his comments on the same day the United Nations World Tourism Organisation announced the that 100 percent of global air travel destinations had restrictions in place on arriving passengers.

Download the IATA Outlook for Air Travel here.
Listen to the 13 May Media Conference Call here.

The association chief also said European airlines would be at great risk of survival if they were required to refund at least 9.2 billion euros (US$10 billion) to passengers for cancelled flights. The figure the association cited earlier for all airlines was about US$35 billion. “The rules (in Europe) were not made for this,” de Juniac said. “We are asking for “delayed reimbursements or refundable vouchers to allow airlines to survive this crisis.”

IATA file
Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general. (PHOTO: IATA file)

The association said air travel was likely to recover more slowly than global economies in general because governments around the world were injecting huge amounts of stimulus into their domestic economies. IATA said however, despite the injections of cash into the economies, there is a lack of business confidence that is likely not to return with a vaccine against COVID-19 or some sort of global, coordinated measures on international travel rules.

The association also projected that in the near future there will be a sharp fall in average trip length because domestic routes will open first and people are more likely to “stay closer to home”, according to Brian Pearce, IATA’s chief economist. The association also pointed out that it did a survey of travellers in April that showed 86 percent of travellers were somewhat or very concerned about being quarantined while traveling and  69 percent of recent travellers would not consider travelling if it involved a 14-day quarantine period.

AAV Newsletter

IATA covid-19“Even in the best of circumstances this crisis will cost many jobs and rob the economy of years of aviation-stimulated growth,” IATA’s de Juniac said. “To protect aviation’s ability to be a catalyst for the economic recovery, we must not make that prognosis worse by making travel impracticable with quarantine measures. We need a solution for safe travel that addresses two challenges. It must give passengers confidence to travel safely and without undue hassle. And it must give governments confidence that they are protected from importing the virus. Our proposal is for a layering of temporary non-quarantine measures until we have a vaccine, immunity passports or nearly instant COVID-19 testing available at scale.”

IATA earlier proposed a temporary “risk-based layered approach” to provide governments with the confidence to open their border without quarantining arrivals includes preventing travel by those who are symptomatic with temperature screening and other measures and addressing the risks of asymptomatic travellers with governments managing a robust system of health declarations and vigorous contact tracing.

“The mutual recognition of agreed measures is critical for the resumption of international travel,” IATA said. “This is a key deliverable of the COVID-19 Aviation Recovery Task Force (CART) at ICAO. That task force recently issued new safety guidelines for the industry.

“CART has a very big job to do with little time to waste. It must find an agreement among states on the measures needed to control COVID-19 as aviation re-starts. And it must build confidence among governments that borders can be opened to travellers because a layered approach of measures has been properly implemented globally. IATA and the whole industry support this critical work,” said de Juniac.

Long recovery time

Air Travel RecoveryIATA said in a statement released on Thursday (14 May) that the industry will take longer to recover the longer the virus continues and the longer countries maintain their border closures or quarantine measures. IATA and Tourism Economics modelled two air travel scenarios.

Baseline Scenario

  • This is contingent on domestic markets opening in Q3, with a much slower phased opening of international markets. This would limit the air travel recovery, despite most forecasts pointing toward a strong economic rebound late this year and during 2021.
  • In 2021 IATA expects global passenger demand (measured in revenue passenger kilometres, RPKs) to be 24 percent below 2019 levels and 32 percent lower than IATA’s October 2019 Air Passenger forecast for 2021.
  • IATA doesn’t expect 2019 levels to be exceeded until 2023.
  • As international markets open and economies recover, there will be further growth in air travel from the 2020 low point. But even by 2025 IATA expects global RPKs to be 10 percent lower than the previous forecast.

Pessimistic Scenario

  • This is based on a slower opening of economies and relaxation of travel restrictions, with lockdowns extending into Q3, possibly due to a second wave of the virus. This would further delay the recovery of air travel.
  • In this case, global RPKs in 2021 could be 34 percent lower than 2019 levels and 41 percent below IATA’s previous forecast for 2021.

“Major stimulus from governments combined with liquidity injections by central banks will boost the economic recovery once the pandemic is under control. But rebuilding passenger confidence will take longer. And even then, individual and corporate travellers are likely to carefully manage travel spend and stay closer to home,” said IATA’s de Juniac said.

As just about everyone in the international aviation industry has been saying for the last two months, recovery will be led by domestic travellers with regional and international traffic taking longer to recover. There has already been some increase in domestic traffic in places like China, South Korea and other countries with large domestic networks, although passenger numbers are nowhere near what they were pre-COVID-19.

IATA covid-19An IATA survey of recent air travellers conducted in April 2020 found that 58 percent are somewhat or very likely to restrict their initial travel to domestic journeys. Domestic RPKs will only recover to 2019 levels by 2022. International RPKs are only expected to return to 2019 levels in 2024, IATA said.

“The impacts of the crisis on long-haul travel will be much more severe and of a longer duration than what is expected in domestic markets. This makes globally agreed and implemented biosecurity standards for the travel process all the more critical. We have a small window to avoid the consequences of uncoordinated unilateral measures that marked the post-9/11 period. We must act fast,” said de Juniac.

IATA covid-19Download the latest issue of Asian Aviation here.

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Matthew Driskill is the Editor of Asian Aviation and is based in Cambodia. He has been an Asia-based journalist and content producer since 1990 for outlets including Reuters and the International Herald Tribune/New York Times and is a former president of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Hong Kong. He frequently appears on international broadcast outlets like CNN, Al Jazeera and the BBC and has taught journalism at Hong Kong University and the American University of Paris. Driskill has received awards from the Associated Press for Investigative Reporting and Business Writing and in 1989 was named the John J. McCloy Fellow by the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York where he earned his Master's Degree.


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