IATA: Safety Measures Revitalize Air Transport in Middle East
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has called on governments in the Middle East to harmonize biosafety measures for passengers across the region as aviation restarts.
A global framework for restarting aviation while protecting public health has been agreed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and published in the Take-off Guidance for Air Travel through the COVID-19 Public Health Crisis.
However, inconsistent application of these biosafety measures along with unnecessary border constraints are deterring passengers and suppressing the resumption of air travel in the Middle East.
“We are starting to see some governments in the Middle East open their borders to regional and international air travel,” said IATA’s Regional Vice President for Africa and the Middle East Muhammad al-Bakri.
“This is good news but those flying for the first time since the lifting of restrictions face an array of different types of biosafety measures and procedures that are causing confusion among passengers and delaying the recovery.”
IATA also highlighted the three main areas in which more harmonization is required. These are COVID-19 testing, quarantine and contact tracing and health data.
COVID-19 testing can play a role in the overall multi-layered approach to restarting aviation, it noted.
It is a preferred alternative to quarantine measures, which essentially keep a country in isolation and its tourism economy in lockdown.
However, for COVID-19 testing to be a useful biosafety measure, several criteria need to be met. Testing should be accurate, fast, scalable, cost-effective and not add a barrier to travel.
It stressed the test shall be carried out prior to travel to keep people who test positive completely out of the travel system and the results should be transmitted to and recognized by the arrival state.
A number of countries in the Middle East have implemented testing, but in many cases these do not meet the criteria outline by IATA, Bakri said.
Additionally, the disparity of testing requirements among countries along with the difference in costs is causing confusion for passengers.
“In some cases, both a departure and arrival test are required, in some cases two, costing in excess of $150.”
“An effective COVID-19 test has the potential to be a useful risk mitigation measure,” he added.
“However, tests that neither meet the criteria of speed, scalability and reliability nor are offered at reasonable cost, as we are seeing in some countries in the region, have unintended consequences, causing more problems than they solve and will most likely limit the recovery in air travel demand.”
Although IATA urged governments to avoid quarantine measures when re-opening their economies, yet 28 countries in the Middle East have government-imposed quarantine measures in place.
Over 80 percent of passengers said they are unwilling to travel when quarantine is required, according to a questionnaire conducted earlier by IATA.
If this measure remains in place once borders are fully opened and international commercial flights have resumed, the impact is that countries remain in lockdown.
“Imposing quarantine measures on arriving passengers keeps countries in isolation and the travel and tourism sector in lockdown,” Bakri stressed.
Fortunately, he added, there are policy alternatives that can reduce the risk of importing COVID-19 infections while still allowing for the resumption of travel and tourism that are vital to jumpstarting national economies.