Recent upticks in air travel not enough ICAO says

Latest dips show signs of ‘second wave’, ICAO tells tourism crisis committee

Border closures and quarantines mean very passengers are coming to Changi Airport in Singapore. (PHOTO: Matt Driskill)

Use this oneDownturns in air transport have significant and cascading impacts on tourism and hospitality markets all over the world, and recent slight upturns have been insignificant when compared to how severely global air transport and tourism have plummeted due to COVID-19. This message was underscored by ICAO Secretary General Dr Fang Liu, as she addressed the latest meeting of the UN World Tourism Organisation’s (UNWTO’s) Global Tourism Crisis Committee.

Dr Fang Liu, secretary general of the International Civil Aviation Organisation. (PHOTO: ICAO)

Appreciating the deep inter-dependencies of air transport and tourism, and the close and effective cooperation already established between ICAO and the UNWTO, Liu reported to the government and industry officials on hand that current trends in global mobility and connectivity continue to paint a dire economic portrait, and one which threatens the economic sustainability of airports and airlines all over the world. “Overall September passenger totals were only 33 percent their 2019 levels, and international passenger levels were much worse at just 19% of what was seen last year,” the ICAO secretary general said. “A troubling dip in the recoveries of some regions is also becoming apparent now, likely as a result of the pandemic ‘second waves’ some countries are now recording.”

Liu noted that ICAO’s latest forecasts are pointing to 2020 global airline passenger totals declining by some 2.8 billion domestic and international travellers. She recognised as well that the global air transport COVID-19 response guidelines issued early into the pandemic by the ICAO Council’s Aviation Recovery Taskforce (CART) did not achieve the desired effects on the pandemic and its restrictions on international air transport. “Countries continue to adopt and apply the recommended CART approaches, and to optimise whatever air connectivity they can in doing so, but the highest levels of national priority in many states remain pandemic-focused,” she said.

Some airlines like Emirates are already testing passengers before departure. (PHOTO: Emirates)

Liu also recognised that more effective medical approaches and solutions would need to be available “before any meaningful levels of national alignment, and therefore traveller confidence and spending,” would return to the travel and transport sectors.

In terms of latest actions being taken, she emphasised that the ICAO CART Task Force, which features the participation of governments, industry groups, the WHO and UNWTO, and other regional organisations, is now finalising the Phase II of its ‘Take-off’ guidelines. This amended guidance may include a risk management framework for the evaluation of COVID-19 testing solutions,” she noted, “and these could have the potential to alleviate the need for quarantines for international air travellers and tourists, or to shorten quarantine periods where those may be retained.”

In January and February, Changi Airport in Singapore was full of passengers. Now a lone student waits to say goodbye to a friend in a nearly deserted departure hall. (PHOTO: Matt Driskill)

She acknowledged the need for realistic expectations and noted that “hard hit airlines and airports are still being counted on to quickly move food and other urgent and essential air cargo wherever the world needs it, this underscores the critical importance of public subsidies for air transport sector at this time.” In concluding her remarks, Liu stressed that “with hundreds of millions of livelihoods now hanging in the balance, the need for continued solidarity and collaboration among the travel and tourism sectors, as exemplified here today, has never been more urgent or critical.”

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