Airlines bemoan lack of coordinated approach to Covid effort
Industry foresees slow recovery, perhaps not until 2024, while mass inoculation trudges along
Travel restrictions in many parts of the world caused by new outbreaks triggered by virus mutations and differing paces of vaccination threaten recovery prospects for the aviation industry, which is suffering its worst crisis.
The lack of standards and coordination as well as the manner in which Covid-related restrictions are enforced is making recovery less predictable or sustainable, said Jeffrey Goh, chief executive of Star Alliance.
Travel is vital to being human and travel policies should support this movement through responsible and risk-based assessments, using testing and controls to protect populations and prevent further spread of the virus, said Mr Goh.
He said inoculations are key to restarting international air travel as well as avoiding quarantine, which is a threat to the recovery of the aviation industry.
However, robust testing protocols remain important while the world waits for people to be vaccinated.
"The role of government is to support the industry and prepare for recovery. This is critical," Mr Goh said. "Beyond financial support, recovery of air travel is dependent on travel restrictions that governments adopt. These measures should be based on medical evidence."
Subhas Menon, director-general at the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA), said different travel requirements have to be streamlined through bilateral travel bubbles or corridors for clarification and a more coordinated approach.
Mr Menon suggested all parties in the aviation industry including governments work together to prioritise travel and tourism for global recovery.
He said smart travel solutions have become even more important to make travel seamless because of confusing health and travel requirements.
Testing procedures and certificates of vaccination need to be digitised to facilitate the travel process, via the form of a digital pass.
BRACE FOR TURBULENCE
Mr Menon said the pace of vaccinations in Asia-Pacific is uneven and slower than in Western countries.
This region can expect to achieve herd immunity by 2023 unless vaccine rollouts are accelerated, he said.
"We thought with Asia being the first to encounter the virus, it would be the first to recover," Mr Menon said.
"But Asia-Pacific border restrictions are the most stringent."
He said India is still struggling with a catastrophic virus situation, meaning the region must wait and see for a few months until the new waves and variants subside. The whole region has to simultaneously rebound for a meaningful recovery to take root, said Mr Menon.
The AAPA estimates the aviation industry will take until at least 2024 before it fully recovers.
In terms of passenger growth, Mr Goh said leisure travel will start to shift in the near term, but business travel will remain depressed throughout this year and improve in 2022.
He said the outbreak has made customers expect more flexible air tickets, which are adjustable based on their travel plans in case of emergency travel restrictions.
There is also greater demand for hygienically safer travel experiences.
As a result of Covid fears, families and companies may consider booking private jets to avoid crowds on commercial flights.
Demand for private jets will double by next year, said Luzi Matzig, chief executive of VIP Jets, a Don Mueang-based private jet provider.
This growing trend comes from wealthy Asians who are more open to private jet services, both for business and leisure, not only within the region but also to the Middle East and Europe.
Meanwhile, expatriates in Thailand tend to book services to visit their home country, he said.
However, due to travel restrictions, the number of flights has been lowered to 50-60 per year, mostly serving as medical evacuation flights from Cambodia and Myanmar, compared with 75-100 flights a year in the pre-Covid era.