A risk-based layered approach of globally harmonised biosecurity measures is critical for the restart of air travel, according to Iata.

The aviation body released new analysis showing that the damage to air travel from COVID-19 extends into the medium-term, with long-haul/international travel being the most severely impacted.

The analysis further highlighted that quarantine measures on arrival would further damage confidence in air travel.

Subsequently, Iata and the Oxford Tourism Economics Company have created two possible air travel scenarios.

Baseline scenario

This scenario is contingent on domestic markets opening in Q3, with a much slower phased opening of international markets. This would limit the air travel recovery, despite most forecasts pointing toward a strong economic rebound late this year and during 2021.

  • In 2021 it is expected that global passenger demand (measured in revenue passenger kilometres: RPKs) to be 24% below 2019 levels and 32% lower than Iata’s October 2019 Air Passenger forecast for 2021.
  • 2019 levels will likely only be exceeded by 2023.
  • As international markets open and economies recover, there will be further growth in air travel from the 2020 low point. But even by 2025, global RPKs are expected to be 10% lower than the previous forecast.

Pessimistic scenario

This is based on a slower opening of economies and relaxation of travel restrictions, with lockdowns extending into Q3, possibly due to a second wave of the virus. This would further delay the recovery of air travel.

  • In this case, global RPKs in 2021 could be 34% lower than 2019 levels and 41% below our previous forecast for 2021.

“Major stimulus from governments combined with liquidity injections by central banks will boost the economic recovery once the pandemic is under control. But rebuilding passenger confidence will take longer. And even then, individual and corporate travellers are likely to carefully manage travel spend and stay closer to home,” said Alexandre de Juniac, Iata DG and CEO.

He added that the impact of the crisis on long-haul travel would be much more severe and of a longer duration than what was expected in domestic markets.

“This makes globally agreed and implemented biosecurity standards for the travel process all the more critical. We have a small window to avoid the consequences of unco-ordinated unilateral measures that marked the post-9/11 period. We must act fast,” said De Juniac.

Avoid quarantine measures

Iata urged governments to find alternatives to maintaining or introducing arrival quarantine measures as part of post-pandemic travel restrictions.

“Even in the best of circumstances this crisis will cost many jobs and rob the economy of years of aviation-stimulated growth. To protect aviation’s ability to be a catalyst for the economic recovery, we must not make that prognosis worse by making travel impracticable with quarantine measures,” said De Juniac.

“We need a solution for safe travel that addresses two challenges. It must give passengers confidence to travel safely and without undue hassle. And it must give governments confidence that they are protected from importing the virus. Our proposal is for a layering of temporary non-quarantine measures until we have a vaccine, immunity passports or nearly instant COVID-19 testing available at scale.”

Iata’s proposal for a temporary risk-based layered approach to provide governments with the confidence to open their border without quarantining arrivals includes:

  • Preventing travel by those who are symptomatic, with temperature screening and other measures;
  • Addressing the risks of asymptomatic travellers, with governments managing a robust system of health declarations and vigorous contact tracing.