The impact on air travel of the coronavirus will be felt for many years to come, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which estimates that passenger traffic will not return to its pre-crisis level before at least 2023.
The World Airlines Trade Association said demand for air travel has fallen by more than 90% in Europe and the United States since the start of the pandemic, and warned that the recovery will be even slower if travel closings and restrictions are extended.
“We are asking governments to take a step-by-step approach to restart the industry and get back on the plane,” Alexandre de Juniac, director and chief executive officer of IATA, told CNBC Squawk Box Europe on Thursday. De Juniac hopes that some flights will resume by the summer.
“We aim to reopen and boost the domestic market by the end of the second quarter, and to open regional or continental markets – such as Europe, North America or Asia-Pacific – from here the third trimester, and intercontinental in the fall, “he said. .
“So, for the summer, we hope you will see flights coming back to Europe, with attractive prices and very secure checkout processes.”
The external borders of the European Union remain closed to third-country nationals until mid-June. The European Commission has recommended a gradual approach to reopening the borders of its member states, starting with countries with low rates of coronavirus infections.
IATA comments come as travel groups are desperate to bring operations back to life and some are already putting plans in place to do so.
United Airlines expressed its goal of planning Europe and China routes in June, Dubai’s flagship airline Emirates Airline will start nine round-trip routes from May 21, and European low-cost airline Ryanair predicts that 40% of its flights will be operated by July 1. Wizz Air will return to London Luton Airport from June 16, Lufthansa plans to expand its services in June and IAG will resume flights in July, among others.
Mandatory quarantine “unnecessary”
But any hope of reviving the industry with a resumption of travel will be dashed if governments institute mandatory quarantine periods of 14 days for travelers upon arrival, warned de Juniac.
“We are pleading with governments not to implement quarantine measures that will detain people for two weeks who will arrive anywhere,” he said.
“We think that this is useless provided that we have the sanitary and sanitary controls which we are discussing with governments. It is absolutely essential for the tourism industry which is so important for so many European countries.”
Dozens of countries, including Australia, New Zealand, China, Spain and potentially the United Kingdom, require international travelers to be quarantined for two weeks upon arrival, with varying degrees of enforcement : In Australia, arrivals are escorted to a hotel where they must stay for 14 days. , while in other countries, they should “self-quarantine” at home. Hong Kong has issued state-controlled tracking bracelets that arrivals must wear to ensure they do not leave their quarantine areas. Such policies will likely deter many people from wanting to travel.
De Juniac believes quarantine periods are simply not necessary as long as airlines and airports apply rigorous sanitation and surveillance practices.
“Is it possible to have a full plane without the risk of contamination? Our answer is yes,” said de Juniac, “provided that health checks and procedures are put in place for passengers just before the flight – in requesting a temperature control, by the obligation to wear a mask, by correctly cleaning the plane and by disinfecting correctly, by limiting the distribution of food to prepackaged food, by limiting cabin baggage to a single baggage to avoid disembarking and boarding too crowded. “
With such a multilevel approach, he argued, “you limit the risk of contamination … And then quarantine is not useful from our point of view in this case.”
Lufthansa planes parked on the runway in Frankfurt, Germany.
Looking at the nature of the flight – many people crammed into a tight space, loading and picking up luggage, using the plane’s toilets – it’s hard to imagine that any sort of spread or viral contamination could be entirely prevented.
But the head of IATA was adamant, citing studies carried out on board “which show that the risk of contamination is absolutely minimal even when you do not have special equipment”.
He added that air filters on airplanes provide safe ventilation, that sitting behind the seatback rather than face to face with other passengers reduces the spread of droplets and that mandatory masks will further reduce contamination.
“So if you have special equipment, special controls, special cleaning, you reduce the risk to something that will never be zero but will be negligible. This is our strong belief based on studies, on equipment that we use – and on something that is even more important is safety, which is the key priority of this industry, “he said.
De Juniac stressed that passenger safety is a priority and that resumption of operations depends ultimately on government decisions.
“I think travelers expect us to put in place a safe process for passenger health and sanitation. We are working with governments on this,” he added.
“We will be able to fly safely at least in Europe, we hope, and it will then depend on government decisions to lift travel restrictions and border closures.”