The International Air Transport Association (Iata), which is the global representative body of the airline industry, is calling for the testing of all air passengers for Covid-19 before they embark on their flights. It is urging “the development and deployment of rapid, accurate, affordable, easy-to-operate, scalable and systematic Covid-19 testing for all passengers before departure”.
Such testing would replace quarantine measures for arriving air passengers and allow the re-establishment of global air connectivity, the association highlights. Iata assures that it will work with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (a specialist agency of the United Nations) and national health authorities to rapidly establish such a system.
“The key to restoring the freedom of mobility across borders is systematic Covid-19 testing of all travellers before departure,” stresses Iata director-general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac. “This will give governments the confidence to open their borders without complicated risk models that see constant changes in the rules imposed on travel.”
International air travel this year is 92% below the level of last year. Border closures to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, which effectively destroyed global connectivity, were imposed more than six months ago. Although some countries have cautiously reopened their borders, the revival of international travel has been severely hampered by quarantine requirements or by frequent changes in regulations which make planning impossible.
“Testing all passengers will give people back their freedom to travel with confidence,” he emphasised. “And that will put millions of people back to work.”
Iata points out that 65.5-million jobs worldwide depend on the aviation industry. Should the sector collapse, the economic and social costs would be substantial and prolonged. The cost of the government aid needed to avoid such a collapse was rising. Globally, this year airlines will likely suffer revenue losses of more than $400-billion, and to suffer record net losses of more than $80-billion.
Public opinion research by Iata has established that 65% of air passengers surveyed agreed that quarantine should not be required of travellers who had tested negative for Covid-19. Further, 84% supported compulsory testing of all passengers and 88% expressed their willingness to undergo such testing themselves.
“Safety is aviation’s top priority. We are the safest form of transport because we work together as an industry with governments to implement global standards,” he affirms. “With the economic cost associated with border closures rising daily and a second-wave of infections taking hold, the aviation industry must call on this expertise to unite with governments and medical testing providers to find a rapid, accurate, affordable, easy-to-operate and scalable testing solution that will enable the world to safely reconnect and recover.”
Iata points out that Covid-19 testing technology is evolving rapidly in all its aspects. It is expected that much improved deployable tests will be available in a matter of weeks. The preferred approach is to test passengers before they get on their aircraft, as this would ensure a “clean” travel process.
“By calling for the establishment of a global approach to Covid-19 testing for all passengers before departure we are sending a clear signal of aviation’s needs,” stated De Juniac. “In the meantime, we are gaining practical knowledge from the testing programmes that already exist as part of the various travel bubble or travel corridor initiatives around the world. We must continue with these valuable programmes which move us in the right direction by building testing experience, facilitating essential travel and demonstrating testing effectiveness.”