ICAO, IATA push for reopening of international travel following COVID-19 meeting

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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)

Ministers, deputy ministers and the heads of 24 international organisations completed a comprehensive review of pandemic-driven priorities for global air transport last week, formalising new commitments on border risk management and vaccination approaches, building air transport back better for sustainability and future pandemic resilience, and other key priorities aimed at accelerating air tourism and trade recovery and reconnecting the world.

The agreements were enshrined in a new declaration they adopted as the key outcome of ICAO’s High-level Conference on COVID-19, which completed today after nine days of intensive virtual multilateralism. The new ministerial declaration recognises the severity of the COVID-19 crisis for civil aviation, and its cascading impacts on global supply chains and the many national economies which rely so significantly on international flights for tourism and trade. It also recognised the critical role now being played by air transport and the ICAO Council’s Aviation Recovery Task Force (CART) in keeping the essential supplies and personnel moving to where the world needs them most.

The participating countries committed to a multilayer risk management strategy for international civil aviation, and one which is adaptable, proportionate, non-discriminatory, and guided by scientific evidence. To strengthen global public confidence in air travel, the countries emphasised that while vaccination should not be a precondition for travel, it is highly desirable that it be used to facilitate increased international mobility. Countries agreed to work with ICAO and other stakeholders to ensure the interoperability and accessibility of secure applications to validate pandemic-related testing, vaccination, and recovery certification. They also committed to promoting, to the greatest extent possible, a harmonised and inclusive approach, including alleviating or exempting testing and/or quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated or recovered passengers, taking into account the different circumstances of individual States and their national polices. This is consistent with current World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations.

IATA: States must work to restore global connectivity

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) urged governments to use the commitments reached at the ICAO High Level Conference on COVID-19 (HLCC) to make real progress towards restoring global air connectivity. States attending the ICAO HLCC declared their commitment to 14 measures which, if acted upon, would enable airlines to meet the demands of consumers worldwide for a revival of air travel. In particular, two commitments need the most urgent action by governments. These are:

  • ‘We commit to taking effective measures to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 and other communicable diseases by international air travel, in particular through the implementation of the ICAO CART guidelines, and encourage the harmonization of Member States’ multilayer risk management strategies to safely restore international connectivity and support the revival of the global economy as a critical step towards achieving our goal to enhance the social, environmental and economic sustainability of aviation, ensuring the interoperability and mutual recognition of, and accessibility to, digital applications, secure transmission and validation of pandemic-related testing, vaccination and recovery certification that protects privacy and personal data.’
  • ‘We commit to promoting, to the greatest extent possible, a harmonised and inclusive approach to facilitate safe international air travel, including alleviating or exempting testing and/or quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated or recovered passengers, taking into account the different circumstances of individual States and their national policies, in keeping with WHO’s policy and technical considerations for implementing a risk-based approach to international travel in the context of COVID-191 , and providing exceptions for non-vaccinated passengers. This will enable us to work towards strengthening the confidence of the travelling public and safely rebuilding international civil aviation.’
IATA Director General Willie Walsh at the 2021 annual general meeting in Boston. (PHOTO: IATA)

“Government-imposed restrictions continue to stop a revival of international travel. It remains 70 percent down on pre-crisis levels. The ICAO HLCC commitments show that governments understand what is needed to re-start global connectivity. The task now is implementation. Some governments have already started. The imminent opening of the US market to vaccinated travelers will be a big step forward. But we cannot let the output of this meeting remain as words on paper. The airline industry, 88 million livelihoods, 3.5% of global GDP and billions of travelers are counting on governments to deliver on the risk-managed reopening of international travel to which they have committed,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general. 

ICAO recently published recommendations that will assist the realisation of the HLCC declaration. Known as CART 3 (the Council Aviation Recovery Task Force), the outputs build on previous recommendations from CART as well as the Take-off guidance and Cross-border Manuals.

Key new or updated recommendations to ICAO member states encompass:

  • Implementation and recognition of testing, recovery and vaccinations certificates (including digital formats)
  • A harmonised multi-layer risk management approach among states to facilitate international travel
  • Entry of fully vaccinated and recovered passengers including consideration of alleviating or exempting such individuals from testing and/or quarantine measures
  • Access for air crew to vaccination as quickly as possible as recommended by the WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunisation (SAGE)

“CART 3 is a roadmap toward a risk-based, data-driven approach to managing COVID-19. Its recommendations are the building blocks for states to achieve the ambition of the HLCC declaration. After a year-and-a-half of experience with COVID-19 we have the knowledge, data and experience to safely facilitate international travel without border restrictions. All the evidence and recommendations point towards restoring the freedom to travel for those vaccinated. And it is also clear that we have the capability to manage those without access to vaccination using testing,” said Walsh.

The industry is advanced in its preparation to efficiently manage travel health credentials with the IATA Travel Pass. It is a solution that responds to the HLCC’s recognition that a system will be needed to digitally manage pandemic-related testing, vaccination and recovery certification that protects privacy and personal data.

“Airlines cannot afford a restart that is compromised by paper-based processes for checking travel health credentials. Testing is complete and several airlines are already starting implementation of IATA Travel Pass across their networks. It’s also a ready-made solution for governments to be prepared to efficiently manage their documentation processes as demand ramps-up,” said Walsh.

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