By Alexandre de Juniac, Director-General and CEO of IATA
Trust. Over decades, airlines have earned the trust of travellers to deliver them safely to their destination. Amid the Covid-19 crisis, the question of trust now extends to personal health.
Passenger volumes in the Middle East are forecast to fall 56% in 2020 year-on-year for airlines and 47% for airports, but surveys tell us that people across the region are eager to get back to exploring the world, reconnecting with friends and family and visiting business partners to seal the next big deal. But you won’t do that unless you feel safe while travelling.
Over the past few weeks all stakeholders in aviation – the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), airlines, airports, manufacturers, governments and medical experts – have been working together to develop a plan for safe travel even as the challenges of Covid-19 remain. It’s led to the ICAO ‘Take-off Guidance’ to restart the industry, which aligns with IATA’s own roadmap to get us up and running.
There is no silver bullet. Until a vaccine is found there nothing that is failsafe. But layers of measures — each reducing risk at each stage of the journey — can have the cumulative effect reducing risk a lot.
The measures to protect your safety begin at the airport. The first thing we want to do is ensure that unwell people don’t fly. We will continue to communicate that it is the personal responsibility of everyone to stay home when you have a fever. And passengers will have their temperature checked at the airport as an extra measure. To keep numbers manageable, only passengers (and their care givers if required) will be allowed into the airport.
Masks will become a feature of travel. Evidence tells us that Covid-19 can be spread by people who show no signs of the disease. Wearing a mask helps to prevent the spread of the disease by people who don’t know that they are sick. You will see airline staff wearing them, you will be asked to as well — from the time you arrive at the airport until you reach your destination.
The next layer is speed and reduced contact. That means having passengers arrive at the airport ready to fly using online check-in and a home printed bag tag where possible. If not, then it is automated processes with kiosks for check-in and self-service boarding.
That’s not all. Airline staff will most likely have plexiglass barriers. There will be more deep cleaning everywhere but particularly for high-touch areas such as kiosks and security trays. And we are working on more efficient ways to queue and other measures so that safe distances can be maintained.
We are re-thinking boarding and disembarking to get people seated or off the aircraft more efficiently. We are simplifying service to minimise the interaction with crew and we will ensure that people don’t congregate around the washrooms.
All of these measures form a part of ICAO’s global guidelines for restoring air connectivity to ensure the safe and harmonised restart of aviation in the Middle East. The guidelines, which were approved by the ICAO Council on 1 June 2020, are intended to inform and align the Covid-19 recovery roadmaps established by States within the region and industry.
Air connectivity is critical to the economic and social development of the Middle East. Ensuring the effective recovery of air transport is essential to supporting the economy post Covid-19, and I am calling on all governments in the region to implement the ICAO Take-off Guidance quickly and in a harmonised and mutually recognised way.
Safety and security are the aviation industry’s main priority, and both are at the centre of the ICAO Take-off Guidance which focuses on passenger and employee well-being. The guidance is also flexible and designed to enable the readjustment of measures depending on their effectiveness in reducing the risk of transmission.
Safely restarting air connectivity while ensuring that aviation is not a meaningful source for the spread of Covid-19 is not an option but rather a necessity for the industry and regional governments alike. We need to work together to make the journey as seamless and risk free as possible.
Trust is personal. You will need to make up your own mind if the reason for your next trip by air justifies what you perceive to be the risk. But for me, if regional governments implement the ICAO Take-off Guidance, then answer is yes. As the industry re-starts, I will be visiting stakeholders in the Middle East. And as summer approaches, I am planning to travel with the family. Both will involve planes. I know that the benefits of the travel will be big. And I trust the measures we have in place to keep me, my colleagues and my family safe. I hope that you will come to the same conclusion.
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