IATA Seeks Pan-European Approach to Post-Covid Air Travel

 - April 23, 2020, 1:53 PM

This story is part of AIN's continuing coverage of the impact of the coronavirus on aviation.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is advocating a coordinated pan-European approach to restart airline service interrupted by the Covid-19 emergency. However, in a press briefing on Thursday, the industry group acknowledged that synchronized timing exiting from lockdown restrictions and a consistent approach on procedures might prove difficult given the different stages of the Covid-19 pandemic in which various countries find themselves.

“The challenge is that there are different realities across Europe,” said  IATA’s regional vice president for Europe, Rafael Schvartzman. “Some countries are in a different stage of Covid-19 than others. Starting on a bilateral basis might be easier.” The aim remains a consensus on rules, requirements, and policy, preferably at a global level and at least on a regional level. He called harmonization and coordination of measures “vital” to a successful restart of the industry. “And as always, we will be led by the science in terms of what can be implemented effectively,” said Schvartzman.

IATA organized a series of so-called Air Transport Industry Restart Summits in different regions of the world, and a first of these summits with European stakeholders took place on April 20. Representatives of several national governments, the European Commission’s Transport directorate-general (DG Move), EASA, Eurocontrol, ICAO, the European Civil Aviation Conference, other European airline associations, and Airports Council International Europe participated in the call. Aircraft manufacturers, health authorities, and unions did not.

By mid-May, the European Commission plans to present a set of guidelines to restart cross-border operations including air travel, Transport Commissioner Adina Valean said during a live online chat on Wednesday. Measures such as the wearing of masks, disinfection of aircraft and airports, and social distancing within airports and on-board aircraft “should be part of those guidelines,” she said. “Probably by mid-May we can put forward this strategy we are working on.”

Those European Union guidelines should ensure equality of treatment across transport modes, Schvartzman stressed, while not ruling out that airlines might lose passengers to rail if post-Covid-19 requirements for air travel become too burdensome. “Aircraft cabins are a quite safe [health] environment; the air is quite sterile,” he noted, adding he does not see how social distancing rules could differ between passengers on an airplane and a train.

IATA also updated its assessment of the effect of the Covid-19 crisis on Europe’s airlines and now anticipates they face $89 billion in lost revenue for the year. That marks an increase over the previous estimate, released March 24, of $76 billion. It projects passenger demand, measured in revenue passenger kilometers, to run 55 percent below 2019 levels, whereas the March estimate projected a 46 percent contraction. European airlines now operate 90 percent fewer flights than they did at this time last year.

Airlines in the UK will feel the most severe effects and see a drop in passenger numbers of 140 million, resulting in a projected revenue loss of $26.1 billion, according to IATA’s new analysis. Spain could potentially record 114 million fewer passengers, while passenger numbers in Germany, Italy, and France could decline by 103 million, 83 million, and 80 million, respectively.