IATA Urges Middle East Governments To Collaborate, Develop Aviation Restart Roadmap
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has called on governments in the Middle East to develop restart plans to safely re-link their citizens, businesses and economies to global markets when the COVID-19 epidemiological situation permits.
This is just as it also called for regional coordination to ensure that the plans can be efficiently implemented and urged governments to remain vigilant about the industry’s financial situation.
According to IATA Regional Vice President for Africa and the Middle East,Kamil Al Awadhi, “Re-establishing air connectivity will energize the economic recovery from COVID-19. With millions of jobs at risk from the prolonged shutdown, not a day should be lost once the epidemiological situation enables a re-opening. Restarting safely after a year or more in lock down will need careful preparations. At the national level it is important that governments work with industry, so everyone understands the benchmarks that need to be achieved to facilitate the lifting of travel restrictions. And at the regional level, where traffic is expected to ramp-up first, it is critical that governments are talking to each other so that all parties are aligned and ready for a restart.”
IATA data shows January air passenger traffic in the region was down 82.3 per cent compared to January 2019, adding the ongoing crisis puts over 1.7 million jobs in the Middle East and $105 billion in GDP at risk.
“This is a unique situation. But we have good practices to rely on. Safety is the top priority for anything associated with aviation. That is because governments have long established global best practices for working together with industry and with each other. This same approach will help the re-start. There are two ends to every route. Both must be prepared or the restart cannot happen,” said Al Awadhi.
Meanwhile, IATA has highlighted two critical areas of areas where governments need to work together:
IATA pointed out that a successful operational restart will include bringing aircraft and terminals back into service, adding that airlines need to ready their crew, technical personnel and aircraft.
It added that after a year of lock downs, this requires refresher training and checks. and that regional overview is needed to :
1. Ensure that the one country’s restart qualifications are accepted by its regional partners and
2. Ensure that sufficient infrastructure capacity is ready to meet demand as markets unlock.
The international airline body said that testing and vaccinations will play a role in opening borders to travel as the pandemic comes under control and that simple, efficient, and harmonized standards for what credentials people will need to travel will boost consumer confidence and give strength to the recovery.
The ICAO Council’s recent approval of requirements for globally accepted COVID-19 test certificates, including the technology framework for secure digital versions and the future incorporation of vaccination certificates provides a global framework.
Cooperation for a harmonized implementation across the Middle East will put the region on a solid footing for recovery.
IATA Travel Pass, will help to conveniently manage health credentials, while protecting against fraud.
“With Qatar Airways already piloting IATA Travel Pass and Emirates, Etihad and Gulf Air signed-up for trials, the Gulf is at the forefront of preparations,” said Al Awadhi.
The financial trauma of the COVID-19 crisis continues. In 2020 Middle East airlines posted losses of $7.1 billion in 2020; a loss of $68.47 for each passenger flown.
With traffic at less than 20 per cent of 2019 levels, the cash burn continues even with severe cost-cutting.
Airlines in the region received $4.8 billion in government aid in 2020. Most of this support ($4.1 billion) was distributed through direct cash injections.
Despite this several airlines in the Middle East remain at risk of bankruptcy or business administration.
“A financially viable air transport sector will be needed to energize the recovery. Government relief for airlines has avoided massive failures that would jeopardize a restart. This has not been uniform across the region. With no clear timeline to recovery the situation is far from resolved. Governments that have provided relief will need to be prepared for more. And governments that have not yet stepped-up must recognize the growing risks to their economies as the crisis drags on,” said Al Awadhi.