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World airlines rally behind testing, financial support to save sector

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World airlines have reiterated the urgent need to re-open borders with COVID-19 testing, and further financial support for aviation as the pandemic shutdown of air transport continues.

The airlines, under the aegis of International Air Transport Association (IATA), noted that border restrictions, especially quarantine measures, in Europe and many parts of the world had undermined free movement of people as a cornerstone of economic development.

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As a result, passenger demand has plummeted and 2020 is expected to see passenger numbers down at least 70 per cent compared to 2019 for travel to/from/within Europe. Only 340 million travellers in the region are expected to fly in 2020 compared to close to 1.2 billion that flew in 2019.

This collapse in air traffic has had a devastating impact globally on aviation and the millions of workers in the industry. Research from the Air Transport Action Group estimates some 4.8 million jobs directly connected with air transport are at risk. Many millions more in the travel and tourism industry are also threatened.

It is imperative that governments work together to coordinate a plan to restart the industry. In the meantime, additional financial support is needed to help the industry get through the winter.

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IATA’s Regional Vice President for Europe, Rafael Schvartzman, said at the Portugal Air Summit that airlines were burning through cash at the rate of $300,000 a minute in the second half of 2020.

“And much of the government support that has enabled them to remain viable is running out. The prospect of catastrophic job losses is very real. Continued financial support is desperately needed until the industry can get back on its feet,” Schvartzman said.

The airlines said it was essential that governments worldwide adopt a harmonised and coordinated approach to safely re-open borders without quarantine by using COVID-19 testing.

The aviation industry has set out a clear vision of systematic pre-departure testing to give governments the confidence to re-open borders. But the European Union’s Council Recommendation fails to set clear conditions for the use of testing to replace quarantine.

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“Quarantine of any length will continue the economic destruction of COVID-19. Testing must replace, not shorten, quarantine. And testing costs should be borne by governments, in line with the WHO’s International Health Regulations. Swift and consistent action from European governments is essential if the year-end travel season is to be saved in any form,” Schvartzman said.

IATA’s survey of travellers indicates widespread support for testing in place of quarantine: 83 per cent will not fly if they have to quarantine on arrival; but 88 per cent say that they are willing to be tested to facilitate travel.

About 65 per cent agree that quarantine is not necessary if a person tests negative for COVID-19. Some 39 per cent stated that the government should pay for testing while only 25 per cent believed it should be the responsibility of travellers.

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