IATA outlines recovery steps; Says pax want biometrics; Ground handling needs improvements

Association urges governments to focus on simplified health protocols, digital solutions to process health credentials; October airline outlook improved as borders crack open

APAS Aircraft Storage Alice Springs
Airlines like Singapore Airlines are bringing planes out of storage as traffic improves with the removal of some COVID restrictions. (PHOTO: Steve Strike/Outback Photographics)

CFM WaveThe International Air Transport Association (IATA) recently called on governments to adopt simple, predictable and practical measures to safely and efficiently facilitate the ramping-up of international travel as borders re-open. Specifically, IATA urged governments to focus on simplified health protocols, digital solutions to process health credentials and COVID-19 measures proportionate to risk levels with a continuous review process. The industry’s vision to address the complexity is outlined in the newly released policy paper: From Restart to Recovery: A Blueprint for Simplifying Travel.

“As governments are establishing processes to re-open borders, in line with what they agreed in the Ministerial Declaration of the ICAO High Level Conference of COVID-19, the Blueprint will help them with good practices and practical considerations. Over the next months we need to move from individual border openings to the restoration of a global air transport network that can reconnect communities and facilitate economic recovery,” said Conrad Clifford, IATA’s deputy director general.

The blueprint aims to facilitate the efficient ramping-up of global connectivity. “We must have processes in place to safely and efficiently manage the ramping-up of international travel as borders re-open. With over 18 months of pandemic operational experience and traveller feedback we know that a laser-focus on simplicity, predictability and practicality is essential. That is not the reality today. Over 100,000 COVID-19 related measures have been implemented by governments worldwide. This complexity is a barrier to global mobility that is exacerbated by the inconsistencies these measures have created among states,” said Clifford.

IATA Travel
Organisations like the International Air Transport Association (IATA) have developed digital health passports. (PHOTO: IATA)

IATA outline several “focus areas” that include:

Simplified health protocols: The aim must be protocols that are simple, consistent, and predictable. Key recommendations include:

  • Remove all travel barriers (including quarantine and testing) for those fully vaccinated with a WHO-approved vaccine.
  • Enable quarantine-free travel for non-vaccinated travelers with a negative pre-departure antigen test result.

These recommendations are supported by public opinion research of travellers which revealed that:

  • 80 percent believe that vaccinated people should be able to travel freely.
  • 81 percent believe that testing before travel is an acceptable alternative to vaccination.
  • 73 percent believe that quarantine is not necessary for vaccinated travellers.

Digital solutions to process heath credentials: The management of travel health credentials (vaccination or testing certificates) should be handled digitally and enable travellers to complete the process in advance so that they can arrive at the airport ready-to-travel. This will facilitate automated check-in processes, reducing airport queuing and wait-times. Key recommendations include:

  • A digital health credential to record health status. The European Digital Covid Certificate (EU DCC) is widely accepted and a recognised good practice, with 22 non-EU States currently having equivalence agreements with the EU DCC.
  • A digital web portal or application through which passengers can present their travel health credentials directly to the respective governments for verification. Aruba’s web portal and Canada’s ArriveCAN app are good examples from which other countries can learn, and Australia’s Digital Passenger Declaration platform promises to further streamline processes. IATA Travel Pass can integrate with government solutions to assist with data collection and verification. IATA is working with several governments, including Australia to ensure a joined-up process.
  • A web-platform providing clear explanations of entry requirements tailored to the individual passenger’s residence status, health status, travel history and any other required variable. The Swiss Federal Office of Public Health Travelcheck portal is a good practice example for its ease of use, simplicity and clarity.

These recommendations are supported by public opinion research of travellers which revealed that:

  • 88 percent support standardised vaccination and testing certificates.
  • 87 percent will share personal health data via an app if it saves processing time.
  • 73 percent found understanding the rules and paperwork applicable to their travel to be a real challenge (those who travelled since June 2020).
Passengers in protective overall and masks at Suvarnabhumi Airport going to check-in for repatriation flights and waving goodbye during COVID-19 outbreak. (PHOTO: Shutterstock)

COVID-19 measures proportionate to risk levels with a continuous review process: Industry and governments have amassed crucial and vast experience with COVID-19. This will continue as COVID-19 becomes endemic. COVID-19 measures must reflect this growing knowledge, changing risk levels and societal tolerance. While day-to-day modifications to measures would introduce unpredictability that would be counter-productive, regular reviews and adjustments are needed. Key recommendations include:

  • Publish the risk assessments that are used to make decisions relating to international travel to enhance predictability for both consumers and industry.
  • Review existing processes and apply “sunset” clauses to public health measures to ensure that they are only in place for as long as needed.
  • Develop a roadmap for restoring aviation connectivity in the post-pandemic phase.

These recommendations are supported by public opinion research of travellers which revealed that:

  • 87 percent believe that governments must find the right balance in managing COVID-19 and enabling an economic recovery.
  • 86 percent believe that borders should be progressively re-opened as vaccination coverage and testing capacity grow.
  • 85 percent believe that mask-wearing on board is critical in the pandemic, but 62 percent believe that the requirement should be removed as soon as possible.

“Travel is important. Pre-pandemic some 88 million livelihoods were directly connected to aviation. And the inability to travel freely by air has impacted the quality of life for billions of people. We know that travellers feel confident with the implementation of the COVID-19 safety measures. But they have clearly told us that the current travel experience needs to improve with better information, simpler processing and digital solutions. The Ministerial Declaration of the ICAO HLCC aligns with those of the G20 and the G7 in confirming that governments want to restore the social and economic benefits of global mobility. For that, industry and government must work together with a common vision of processes that are convenient for travellers, effective for governments and practical for the industry,” said Clifford.

Ground handling priorities

Cathay Pacific Cargo ships
Cathay, like other airlines, is relying on cargo to help carry it through the pandemic. (PHOTO: Cathay Pacific)

IATA also said it is focusing on standards, digitalisation and addressing the skilled labour shortage to build resilience and ensure long-term sustainability post pandemic for ground handling activities. “There will be challenges as ground handling operations ramp up to meet growing demand as the aviation industry’s recovery from COVID-19 progresses. Overcoming labour shortages, ensuring safety with strict adherence to global standards and digitalisation and modernisation will be critical to achieving a scalable restart,” said Monika Mejstrikova, IATA’s director of ground operations.

Ground handling providers are facing severe skills shortages and challenges in retaining and recruiting staff. “Many skilled employees have left the industry and are not coming back. And recruiting, training and accrediting new staff can take up to six months. So, it is critical that we retain current staff and find more efficient ways of onboarding new personnel,” said Mejstrikova, who also outlined a number of priority solutions.

ID9844 SATS CargoEye
Using SPEEDCARGO, airlines would be able to optimise their cargo hold based on volume, weight, and other criteria with a click. (PHOTO: SATS)

To retain skilled staff, governments should include ground handlers in wage subsidy programmes. To speed up training processes, the use of competency-based training, assessments and online training formats should be increased, and training requirements harmonised and to increase the efficiency of staff utilisation, a training passport should be developed that would mutually recognise skills across ground handlers, airlines and/or airports, IATA said.

IATA also said digitalisation can drive process improvements that will be critical to improving both sustainability and productivity. A key driver of digitalisation/modernisation is the CEDAR initiative (Connected Ecological Digital Autonomous Ramp) which focuses on: Digitalisation of aircraft turn around; modernisation of ground support equipment and processes; enhanced stand design. “Harnessing data to improve safety and efficiency is crucial for the ground handling industry. CEDAR is the blueprint to address this. The overall aim is to be able to make data-based operational decisions that will cut costs, improve performance and contribute to the industry’s net zero commitment,” said Mejstrikova.

Passengers want biometrics

SITA partnership Boarding

IATA said its 2021 Global Passenger Survey (GPS) showed that passengers want to use biometric identification if it expedites travel processes and want to spend less time queuing. “Passengers have spoken and want technology to work harder, so they spend less time ‘being processed’ or standing in queues. And they are willing to use biometric data if it delivers this result. Before traffic ramps-up, we have a window of opportunity to ensure a smooth return to travel post pandemic and deliver long-term efficiency improvements for passengers, airlines, airports and governments,” said Nick Careen, IATA’s senior vice president for Operations, Safety and Security.

The association said the survey showed 73 percent of passengers are willing to share their biometric data to improve airport processes (up from 46 percent in 2019) and 88 percent will share immigration information prior to departure for expedited processing. Just over a third of passengers (36 percent) have experienced the use of biometric data when travelling, IATA said, and of these, 86 percent were satisfied with the experience. Data protection remains a key issue with 56 percent indicating concern about data breaches. And passengers want clarity on who their data is being shared with (52 percent) and how it is used/processed (51 percent).

IATA said 55 percent of passengers identified queuing at boarding as a top area for improvement, 41 percent of passengers identified queuing at security screening as a top priority for improvement and 38 percent of passenger identified queuing time at border control/immigration as a top area for improvement.

With additional document checks for COVID-19, processing time at airports is taking longer. Pre-COVID-19, the average passengers spent 1.5 hours in travel processes (check-in, security, border control, customs, and baggage claim). Current data indicates that airport processing times have ballooned to 3 hours during peak time with travel volumes at only about 30 percent of pre-COVID-19 levels. The greatest increases are at check-in and border control (emigration and immigration) where travel health credentials are being checked mainly as paper documents, IATA said.

This exceeds the time that passengers want to spend on processes at the airport. The survey found that 85 percent of passengers want to spend less than 45 mins on processes at the airport if they are travelling with only hand luggage. IATA said 90 percent of passengers want to spend less than one hour on processes at the airport when traveling with a checked bag.

IATA, working with industry stakeholders, has two mature programs which can support a successful ramping-up of aviation post-pandemic and provide travellers with the expedited experience they are demanding. IATA Travel Pass is a solution to manage the complex myriad of travel health credentials that governments require.  The app offers a safe and secure way for travellers to check the requirements for their journey, receive test results and scan their vaccine certificates, verify that these meet the destination and transit requirements and share these effortlessly with health officials and airlines prior to departure and using e-gates. This will reduce queuing and congestion for document checks—to the benefit of travellers, airlines, airports and governments.

One ID is an initiative that is helping transition industry towards a day when passengers can move from curb to gate using a single biometric travel token such as a face, fingerprint or iris scan. Airlines are strongly behind the initiative. The priority now is ensuring there is regulation in place to support the vision of a paperless travel experience. One ID will not only make processes more efficient for passengers, but also allow governments to utilise valuable resources more effectively.

“We cannot just revert to how things were in 2019 and expect our customers to be satisfied. Pre-pandemic we were preparing to take self-service to the next level with One ID. The crisis makes its twin-promises of efficiency and cost-savings even more urgent. And we absolutely need technologies like IATA Travel Pass to re-enable self-service or the recovery will be overwhelmed by paper document checks. The GPS results are yet another proof point that change is needed,” said Careen.

IATA airline confidence up in October

Airlines around the world, including Cathay, have had to ground thousands of planes as the COVID-19 pandemic has virtually shut down international aviation. (PHOTO: Shutterstock)

IATA’s latest survey of airlines CFOs and heads of cargo, conducted in early October, showed improvements in airline profitability continued in Q3. Respondents are also optimistic about profits in the next twelve months, indicating that the improvements in the bottom line may extend further. Large majorities of respondents reported improving passenger and cargo volumes in Q3 2021 compared to Q3 2020, and they also expect this to continue on both sides of the business for the 12 months ahead.

While there were positive signs on the employment levels of respondents, workforces remain significantly smaller than prior to the crisis, and 47 percent of respondents expect no changes from a low base. IATA said 47 percent of respondents said their input costs rose in Q3 2021 year-on-year, driven by higher fuel prices, labour costs and supplier prices.

A thin majority (52 percent) of surveyed airlines posted an increase in passenger yields in Q3 year-on-year, the first such majority since 2018. On the cargo side, respondents pointed to strong yields, both in recent months and looking forward. Combined with strong cargo volumes, this indicates that cargo revenues are expected to remain very supportive for airlines in the next 12 months.

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