Air Travel Not Recovering from COVID-19 as Originally Hoped as Border Restrictions Linger

Passenger numbers are expected to fall by 60 per cent in the European air travel market, accounting for 705 million fewer passenger journeys in 2020 according to new figures published by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

The estimate is below what was originally hoped as demand remains suppressed because of lingering travel restrictions, new border closures and a recent rise in COVID-19 cases in an increasing number of European countries.

Airlines across the continent had been hoping to ramp up services through the summer as the novel Coronavirus was brought under control, or at the very least, governments found new ways to deal with the threat. The best hope for recovery is a vaccine but in the absence of that silver bullet, airlines are pressing for greater testing to unlock quarantine rules.

Airlines are signalling greater caution to restart plans and some carriers, including Finnair, are cutting back European schedules on the back of lower than expected demand. Quarantine restrictions have been cited as one of the biggest reasons for putting would-be passengers off travelling.

“It is desperately worrying to see a further decline in prospects for air travel this year, and the knock-on impact for employment and prosperity,” commented Rafael Schvartzman, IATA’s Regional Vice President for Europe.

“It is vital that governments and industry work together to create a harmonized plan for reopening borders,” he continued. Schvartzman warned that seven million jobs across the aviation and tourism industries in Europe were now at risk.

IATA is calling on governments to abandon what it has called a “stop-go-stop” approach to travel restrictions that have created a huge amount of uncertainty.

“Governments must look at a coordinated way to lift travel restrictions and find alternatives to quarantine requirements,” the association said on Thursday. IATA has previously been supportive of pre-travel COVID-19 testing but had hoped for a rapid and scalable product by this point.

COVID-19 testing is becoming increasingly accessible to air travellers and has been embraced by some travellers. Dubai has managed to fully reopen to tourists by requiring a negative COVID-19 test taken within 96 hours of travel. Other countries, however, say testing won’t detect every case and the only failsafe way to stop the spread of the virus is through quarantining arrivals from high-risk locations.

Without an effective vaccine, IATA now doesn’t believe the air travel industry will recover from the Corona crisis until at least 2024.

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