IATA calls on Middle Eastern governments to coordinate on industry restart plans

Regional coordination during the development of restart plans for the Middle Eastern aviation industry will allow governments to ensure that the plans can be efficiently implemented as soon as possible.

IATA calls on Middle Eastern governments to coordinate on restart plans

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has called on Middle Eastern governments to develop restart plans to safely relink their citizens, businesses and economies to global markets when the COVID-19 epidemiological situation permits. IATA has also called for regional coordination across the Middle East to ensure that the plans can be efficiently implemented and has urged governments to remain vigilant about the industry’s financial situation.

“Re-establishing air connectivity will energise the economic recovery from COVID-19. With millions of jobs at risk from the prolonged shutdown, not a day should be lost once the epidemiological situation enables a re-opening. Restarting safely after a year or more in lockdown will need careful preparations. At the national level, it is important that governments work with the industry so that everyone understands the benchmarks that need to be achieved to facilitate the lifting of travel restrictions. At the regional level, where traffic is expected to ramp-up first, it is critical that governments are talking to each other so that all parties are aligned and ready for a restart,” said Kamil Al Awadhi, IATA’s Regional Vice President for Africa and the Middle East.

IATA data shows that January 2021 air passenger traffic in the region was down by 82.3 per cent compared to January 2019. The ongoing crisis puts over 1.7 million jobs in the Middle East and $105 billion in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at risk.

“This is a unique situation. But we have good practices to rely on. Safety is the top priority for anything associated with aviation. That is because governments have long established global best practices for working together with industry and with each other. This same approach will help the restart. There are two ends to every route. Both must be prepared or the restart cannot happen,” said Al Awadhi.

Middle Eastern coordination

IATA has highlighted two critical areas where governments need to work together:

Operational restart

A successful operational restart will include bringing aircraft and terminals back into service. Airlines need to ready their crew, technical personnel and aircraft. After a year of lockdowns, this requires refresher training and checks. A regional overview is needed to:

  1. Ensure that the one country’s restart qualifications are accepted by its regional partners
  2. Ensure that sufficient infrastructure capacity is ready to meet demand as markets unlock.

Travel credentials

Testing and vaccinations will play a role in opening borders to travel as the pandemic comes under control. Simple, efficient and harmonised standards for what credentials people will need to travel will boost consumer confidence and give strength to the recovery.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Council’s recent approval of requirements for globally accepted COVID-19 test certificates, including the technology framework for secure digital versions and the future incorporation of vaccination certificates, provides a global framework. Cooperation for a harmonised implementation across the Middle East will put the region on a solid footing for recovery. 

The IATA Travel Pass will help to conveniently manage health credentials, while protecting against fraud. “With Qatar Airways already piloting IATA Travel Pass and Emirates, Etihad and Gulf Air signed-up for trials, the Gulf is at the forefront of preparations,” said Al Awadhi.

The financial trauma of the COVID-19 crisis continues. In 2020, Middle Eastern airlines posted losses of $7.1 billion in 2020; a loss of $68.47 for each passenger flown. With traffic at less than 20 per cent of 2019 levels, the cash burn continues, even with severe cost-cutting.

Airlines in the region received $4.8 billion in government aid in 2020. Most of this support ($4.1 billion) was distributed through direct cash injections. Despite this, several airlines in the Middle East remain at risk of bankruptcy or business administration.

“A financially viable air transport sector will be needed to energise the recovery. Government relief for airlines has avoided massive failures that would jeopardise a restart. This has not been uniform across the region. With no clear timeline to recovery, the situation is far from resolved. Governments that have provided relief will need to be prepared for more. Governments that have not yet stepped-up must recognise the growing risks to their economies as the crisis drags on,” said Al Awadhi.

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