Airlines around the world have called for the development and deployment of rapid, accurate, affordable, easy-to-operate, scalable and systematic COVID-19 testing for all passengers before departure as an alternative to quarantine measures in order to re-establish international air travel.
International travel is 92% down on 2019 levels, according to the latest figures from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents airlines around the world.
Some governments have begun re-opening borders but few people want to fly internationally because government-enforced quarantine measures make travel impractical.
“The key to restoring the freedom of mobility across borders is systematic COVID-19 testing of all travellers before departure,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s CEO.
“This will give governments the confidence to open their borders without complicated risk models that see constant changes in the rules imposed on travel. Testing all passengers will give people back their freedom to travel with confidence.”
The economic cost of the breakdown in global connectivity makes investing in a border-opening testing solution a priority for governments, IATA said. It said that the human suffering and global economic pain of the crisis will be prolonged if the aviation industry—on which at least 65.5 million jobs depend—collapses before the pandemic ends.
Already lost revenues are expected to exceed $400 billion and the industry was set to post a record net loss of over $80 billion in 2020 under a more optimistic rebound scenario than has actually unfolded.
“Safety is aviation’s top priority,” said de Juniac. “We are the safest form of transport because we work together as an industry with governments to implement global standards. With the economic cost associated with border closures rising daily and a second-wave of infections taking hold, the aviation industry must call on this expertise to unite with governments and medical testing providers to find a rapid, accurate, affordable, easy-to-operate and scalable testing solution that will enable the world to safely re-connect and recover.”
IATA’s public opinion research revealed strong support for COVID-19 testing in the travel process. Some 65% of travellers surveyed agreed that quarantine should not be required if a person tests negative for COVID-19.
Meanwhile, 84% agreed that testing should be required of all travellers and 88% agreed that they are willing to undergo testing as part of the travel process.
In addition to opening borders, public opinion research also indicated that testing will help to rebuild passenger confidence in aviation. Survey respondents identified the implementation of COVID-19 screening measures for all passengers as effective in making them feel safe, second only to mask-wearing.
IATA’s call is to develop a test that meets the criteria of speed, accuracy, affordability and ease of use and that could be administered systematically under the authority of governments following agreed international standards.
The evolution of COVID-19 testing is progressing rapidly on all parameters—speed, accuracy, affordability, ease of use and scalability. Deployable solutions are expected in the coming weeks.
De Juniac said: “By calling for the establishment of a global approach to COVID-19 testing for all passengers before departure we are sending a clear signal of aviation’s needs. In the meantime, we are gaining practical knowledge from the testing programs that already exist as part of the various travel bubble or travel corridor initiatives around the world.”
COVID-19 testing before departure is the preferred option as it will create a “clean” environment throughout the travel process. Testing on arrival dents passenger confidence with the potential for quarantine at destination in the event of a positive result.
IATA does not see COVID-19 testing becoming a permanent fixture in the air travel experience, but it will likely be needed into the medium-term for air travel to re-establish itself.
“Many see the development of a vaccine as the panacea for the pandemic. It will certainly be an important step, but even after an effective vaccine is globally recognised, ramping up production and distribution is likely to take many months. Testing will be a much-needed interim solution,” said de Juniac.