Air industry eager to put 2020 to bed

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by Emily Atkins

GENEVA – Nobody will be nostalgic for 2020, said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s CEO in the aviation indsutry organization’s final briefing for the year on December 16.

“If there ever was an annus horribilis for aviation, it was 2020,” he said.

But he cautioned, the challenges brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic won’t be gone with the date change. “We still have to live with it,” he said.

The industry is facing four to six million job losses with US$1.8 trillion in global GDP wiped out, not to mention the enormous associated social and economic costs.

De Juniac stressed that the aviation industry cannot wait for a vaccine before reviving international travel if it wants to survive.

That’s why the organization is working on four principal agenda items, as we move into 2021. They are:

  1. Ensuring global guidelines for safe travel are in place everywhere.
  2. Clearing the way for effective vaccine distribution by eliminating red tape and ensuring cold chain facilities are in place. Another facet of this is IATA’s request that air cargo workers be prioritized for vaccination after health care workers and vulnerable populations.
  3. Systematically open borders with Covid-19 testing and without quarantine requirements. De Juniac noted that data from testing programs already in pace show that it can almost eliminate the international spread of the virus. However, “many governments are aiming for risk elimination, with enormous health and economic costs.” This is nearly unachievable, he noted.
  4. Creating a means to manage verified health information. IATA is promoting its Travel Pass, an app that keeps track of entry requirements and labs, includes systems to verify vaccine status, and links test results to an individual’s identity.

Travel app

The Travel Pass app is expected to be ready for rollout on Android and IoS platforms by the end of Q1 2021, said Nick Careen, IATA’s senior vice-president airport passenger cargo and security. It will allow for tracking of testing and vaccination based on any government requirement. Using it will let travellers access the requirements and find approved testing or vaccination centres.

It will be secure, Careen said, employing the highest levels of encryption and biometric security, and will ensure that data is only stored on the user’s phone, not in any central repository.

The app also addresses concerns about physical documents in the travel process. An IATA survey found that 70 percent of travellers are worried about the process of handing over passports or phones and 85 percent say touchless travel is the benchmark they are looking for. Almost half (44 percent) say they would be wiling to share their personal data in order to travel, up from only 33 percent in a June survey.

“Our aim is the help reconnect the world safely and seamlessly,” Careen said. “It’s important that we have something in place for consumer and airlines.”

The app is being piloted next week and in the first week of January a trial will take place with British Airways and its International Airlines Group (IAG) partners – Aer Lingus,  Iberia, Level, and Vueling.

“We are close to the finish line but not quite there,” Careen said. “This industry is on its knees, and airlines and consumers need something fast that is effective and cost efficient.”