Asia-Pac Groups Amplify Calls for Cross-border Cooperation

 - November 17, 2020, 9:18 AM

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

As governments across the world continue to take a more conservative approach to reopening their borders to foreign visitors, the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) together with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and Airports Council International (ACI) Asia-Pacific have renewed calls for states to harmonize cross-border measures, including the establishment of globally accepted and mutually recognized Covid-19 testing protocols to restart international air travel.

The appeal comes after the three aviation bodies welcomed the second edition of "Take-off: Guidance for Air Travel through the Covid-19 Public Health Crisis," published by the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) Council Aviation Recovery Task Force (CART). The updated recommendations include a framework to determine the risk of transporting potentially infectious passengers and/or importing Covid-19 as well as recommendations on harmonizing testing protocols, creating so-called public health corridors (commonly referred to as travel bubbles), and extending regulatory relief for aviation personnel until March 31, 2021. The first edition of ICAO’s "Take-off" guidance, released in June, includes measures already adopted by the industry, including physical distancing, the wearing of masks, routine sanitation, health screening, and contact tracing.

Speaking online to reporters following the group’s 64th Assembly of Presidents, AAPA director general Subhas Menon said that while Asia-Pacific boasts low infection rates, cross-border travel remains effectively grounded due to onerous travel restrictions and blanket quarantine requirements. Facing indefinite border closures, airlines across the globe expect to lose more than $84 billion this year, with Asia-Pacific carriers accounting for more than a third of the losses, or $29 billion. Indeed, among all the world’s regions, Menon said traffic declines proved the steepest in the Asia-Pacific region and “particularly grim,” as airlines now carry less than 2 million international passengers per month, compared with 39 million a month in 2019. As a result, seat capacity on international routes has fallen by 89 percent compared with the same period last year. Menon added the aviation industry risks losing some 1.8 million jobs.

While borders are effectively shut to international tourism, domestic travel in Asia-Pacific has shown some signs of recovery due to pent-up demand; traffic in September reached 67 percent of levels registered during the same month last year while domestic capacity grew to 80 percent of 2019’s performance. The air cargo market also has shown signs of resiliency, reaching 83 percent of its 2019 level in September 2020; however, Menon noted that an overall decline in international belly-hold capacity continues to constrain global supply chains.

The AAPA urges governments to fully adopt ICAO CART guidelines to spur demand beyond so-called green lanes for business travel. Menon pointed to the recently announced Singapore-Hong Kong quarantine-free travel bubble as a “step in the right direction,” believing the arrangement could serve as a catalyst for other countries with low infections to follow suit. Under the agreement, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific will offer weekly flights from November 22 with a daily quota of 200 passengers traveling each way. Both airlines expect to offer daily flights between the city pairs from December 7 onward, doubling the number of daily passengers to 400. Eligibility for quarantine-free travel requires passengers to have remained in Singapore or Hong Kong for two weeks before their departure and test negative for Covid-19.

“Countries that have largely contained the virus will hopefully now turn their attention to opening up their borders and revitalizing travel and tourism,” Menon said. “The demand for cross border travel will return once the conditions are conducive, as has been seen with the rebound in domestic travel once restrictions were lifted.’’