The International Air Transport Association (Iata) has reacted to US President Donald Trump’s ban on citizens and residents of the Schengen common visa area of Europe from travelling to the US by affirming that the organisation and its members will maintain their support for governments in their attempts to contain the Covid-19 (novel coronavirus) disease, recognising that governments have to take the steps they regard as essential, but calling for the support of the increasingly battered airline industry worldwide. It also urged all governments to follow World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines regarding Covid-19.
“Governments must impose the measures they consider necessary to contain the virus,” stated Iata director-general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac. “And they must be fully prepared to provide support to buffer the economic dislocation that this will cause. In normal times, air transport is a catalyst for economic growth and development. Suspending travel on such a broad scale will create negative consequences across the economy. Governments must recognise this and be ready to support.”
Last year the number of flights scheduled between the US and the Schengen area totalled some 200 000, or about 550 a day. The number of passengers flown between the two areas came to around 46-million, an average of 125 000 every day. The total value of the US-Schengen area market last year was $20.6-billion. Within this, the three biggest bilateral markets were the US-Germany (worth $4-billion), US-France ($3.5-billion), and US-Italy ($2.9-billion).
“This [US decision] will create enormous cash-flow pressures for airlines,” he emphasised. “Airlines will need emergency measures to get through this crisis. Governments should be looking at all possible means to assist the industry through these extreme circumstances. … Air transport is vital, but without a lifeline from governments we will have a sectoral financial crisis piled on top of the public health emergency.”
Worldwide, airlines employ some 2.7-million people. In a report issued on March 5, Iata estimated that the global Covid-19 crisis could cut total airline revenues by about $113-billion. That estimate was made before the US travel ban was (and travel bans by other countries were) announced.
The WHO has cautioned that, while travel bans may be justified at the start of an epidemic outbreak, to win time for countries to better prepare themselves, they should only be of short duration. When implemented, they should be based on careful risk assessments, be proportionate to the risk to public health, and regularly reconsidered in light of the evolving situation.
“We urge the US and other governments that have placed travel restrictions to follow the WHO guidance,” stressed De Juniac. “This is fast evolving. Health and safety are the top priorities for governments and the air transport sector. But the effectiveness and necessity of travel restrictions must be continuously reviewed.”