IATA Raises Red Flags over Covid Responses in Europe, Mideast

 - August 13, 2020, 9:40 AM

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) on Thursday issued a rather pessimistic outlook for European and Middle Eastern carriers in the context of the Covid-19 crisis based largely on what it characterized as uncoordinated border restrictions and quarantine requirements.

In Europe, IATA noted that air travel has not recovered to the degree it had expected just two months earlier, increasing the negative effect on employment. The group now says the crisis and states’ reaction to it has put at risk more than 7 million jobs supported by aviation, compared with its estimate of 6 million in June. Although the European market has seen an increase in the number of flights in recent months due to the reopening of borders between countries in the Schengen area and non-Schengen states, flight volume has yet to reach even half that of the same period in 2019, noted IATA. The group now expects passenger numbers to fall by about 60 percent this year, representing some 705 million passenger journeys. IATA does not expect passenger demand in Europe to reach 2019 levels until 2024.

The association continues to call on governments to find a coordinated way to lift travel restrictions and find alternatives to quarantine requirements. “International cooperation to isolate and precisely manage risks is critical to rebuilding confidence in travel,” it said in a statement. “Of crucial importance is the layering of measures as an alternative to quarantine, including the universal implementation of the ICAO biosafety measures, comprehensive contact tracing, and the potential for testing regimes that are fast, accurate, scalable, and affordable. As we learn to live with Covid-19, a stop-go-stop approach to lifting restrictions cannot be the answer.”

The group has also raised alarms about the failure of the European Commission to signal an intention to extend slot use waivers into the winter season.

“It is absolutely crucial that the European Commission issue an unambiguous statement on their intention to provide a full winter-season slot use waiver immediately,” said Rafael Schvartzman, IATA’s regional vice president for Europe. “It is baffling that the commission continues to sit on its hands over the summer, while each day of delay becomes more critical for the future viability of a robust and competitive aviation industry.”

Separately, the crisis in the Middle East has also deepened, said IATA, which called for a cooperative effort on the part of the region’s countries to opening borders and imposing biosafety measures. Statistics released Wednesday by the association predicts full-year 2020 traffic will fall by 56 percent, compared with its previous estimate of 51 percent, while GDP supported by aviation in the region could fall by up to $85 billion, compared with the previous projection of $66 billion.

“Middle East economies have been brought to their knees by Covid-19. And without air connectivity being reestablished, the socio-economic impact is getting worse," said Muhammad Al Bakri, IATA’s regional vice president for Africa and the Middle East. “Businesses, which contribute substantially to the region’s GDP and provide thousands of jobs, are at risk without these vital connections. For the region’s economic recovery, it is imperative that the industry restarts safely as soon as possible.”

Al Bakri also called for more direct government aid in the form of wage subsidies and loans and, much like Schvartzman, raised concerns about a failure of some countries to waive the so-called 80-20 “use-it-or-lose-it” slot rule.

“This is needed to provide critical relief to airlines in planning schedules amid unpredictable demand patterns,” he said. “Saudi Arabia has confirmed a waiver for its slot coordinated airports and we hope the UAE, Morocco, and Tunisia will do so soon. Airlines need to focus on meeting demand and not meeting slot rules that were never meant to accommodate the sharp fluctuations of such a crisis.”