The recent surge in Covid-19 infections plus the reality that the global rollout of vaccinations will take time has effectively extinguished hopes for an early recovery in air travel, said Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) at a media roundtable on Tuesday, 9 February.
During the briefing, director general Subhas Menon showed a Covid-19 vaccination timeline for Asia Pacific which shows the last-in-line countries not getting the vaccine till 2025 and beyond.
Countries in APAC last-in-line for vaccines may not receive doses till 2025 and beyond.
Against such a scenario and looking at the near-term outlook of airlines with forward bookings pointing to increased weakness in demand (chart below), AAPA is projecting a rebound to 2019 levels by 2024 – and some might say that’s on the optimistic side.
With hopes of early recovery in air travel extinguished, AAPA puts weight behind digital travel passes.
As such, while it waits for border controls to be relaxed, the association is putting its energy into supporting the development of a digital travel pass “to harmonise the rollout and application of measures” that would allow governments to open borders without the need for quarantine.
Menon acknowledged the “inconsistent and incoherent” applications of border measures had made it extremely challenging for the resumption of cross-border air travel. Travel bubbles, on which the industry had pinned hopes, have also largely not worked.
He said AAPA would support the various digital travel passes, which are in the works, including the IATA Travel Pass due to be launched in March, the Common Pass as well as the new Health Protect pass launched by SITA this week.
Asked by Web in Travel (WiT) why if harmonisation was important, “wouldn’t it make sense to have harmonisation with one travel pass instead of several which might confuse customers further”, he said, “What is important is what goes into the travel pass. The … travel passes, as you might imagine, are like skeletons … but the fulfilment of some of these features requires harmonisation at the government level, as well as at the health authorities level, because when it comes to testing and vaccination and certification, the health authorities are responsible.
“WHO is carrying the cudgels for the industry on this and will come up with a standardised framework, which governments and health officials can sign up to. That is where I think we can achieve the harmonisation; so different travel passes need not detract from this, as long as they have all the same basic elements.”
Thankfully, cargo remains the silver lining for airlines – air cargo has kept the global economy ticking, accounting for US$6 trillion and 35% of global trade – and airlines are playing a vital role in the distribution of vaccines “which will be key to the revival of airlines”, said Menon.
In supporting the digital travel passes, AAPA’s stance is that “vaccination should not be a pre-condition in the travel process, unless evidence points to prevention of infectiousness” and that “government and health authorities’ support” are crucial for success.
He acknowledged the challenges of opening travel bubbles in the current environment when governments now have bigger problems to worry about – with new waves of infections and new variants around the world – and that travel and tourism may not be their highest priority right now.
However he remains optimistic that the Singapore and Hong Kong bubble would materialise. Both places are focused on getting ahead of the spread of the virus, they are where vaccinations are taking place and they both depend on inbound tourism for their economies. “It will only be a matter of time,” he said.
Beyond the pandemic, AAPA is still committed to building a safe, smart and sustainable aviation industry.
Meanwhile, AAPA is looking beyond Covid-19 to build a safe, smart and sustainable aviation industry. On the issue of sustainability, it is committed to its goal of halving emissions by 2050 and getting to zero by 2060-2065. This would be aided by “zero emission longhaul aircraft”, which will be market ready by 2030/2040 and aircraft manufacturers’ goal is to have airplanes capable and certified to fly on 100% SAF (Sustainable Aviation Fuel) by 2030.
In closing the media roundtable, during which he was peppered with a long list of questions by media round the world, Menon said, “It is definitely a very difficult time for the industry. After 12 months we are still facing indefinite border closures, but at the same time I think there is a lot of cause for optimism. Vaccines is one. Number two, the ability of humankind to focus its attention on a problem and find solutions, as we have seen. Number three is the resilience of this industry, especially in the Asia Pacific region.
“We have seen how the industry has survived this long, and so all this calls for optimism. I want to assure everyone that the Asia Pacific airline industry is not sitting on its hands. We are doing everything possible to make sure that we will be around and we will be in good fit to serve the travelling public, safely, sustainably and in a smart way.”
Source: Web in Travel