Pre-Departure COVID-19 Testing High on IATA’s Agenda, Director General Says

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Systematic testing for COVID-19 prior to flying needs to become standard practice in order for the aviation industry to recover, according to IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac. He’s calling for government involvement to create pre-flight passenger testing standards. Lufthansa, United, JetBlue, American and Alaska are among the airlines that have announced they are currently offering pre-departure COVID-19 testing, or will soon.

Speaking at the Global Sustainable Aviation Forum yesterday, Alexandre de Juniac, director general, International Air Transport Association (IATA), said that aviation needs significant involvement from governments in order to make it possible to reopen borders and relaunch air travel.

“Up to now what has been the main obstacle to the traffic recovery are the travel restrictions – mainly the quarantine measures, and border closures,” he said.

Border closures have had a colossal impact on traffic numbers, according to Michael Gill, executive director, Air Transport Action Group (ATAG), who presented the headline traffic figures from ATAG’s “Aviation: Benefits Beyond Borders,” which was released at the Forum.

“We saw a 94.4% drop in traffic in April of 2020, compared with April of 2019. In April, 64% of the global fleet fleet was grounded. And by the end of this year, we’re forecasting a 50% drop in passengers year on year.”

IATA’s immediate-term focus is on a coordinated approach to pre-flight passenger screening. “We are asking governments to remove these traffic restrictions and quarantines and replace these measures with systematic testing for passengers at departure to avoid maintaining these restrictions that are a complete blocking point on air travel.”

The director general said that governments need to collaborate with ICAO or within an international framework to implement common pre-flight passenger testing standards, and adopt a single system that would be applicable everywhere.

The proposal for pre-flight passenger testing came in unison with a recommendation from IATA that there should be an extension of government financial and regulatory support to assist the aviation industry’s recovery.

Asked by APEX Media to comment on when IATA expected the passenger experience to return to some form of “normal,” de Juniac responded by saying that, “the passenger journey and experience should go back to normal when there will be a significant improvement either in vaccine or in treatment, so when the risk of being infected or of infection transmission between countries, or location, is significantly reduced.” He cautioned, however, that this was unlikely to happen in the short term.

Another report from ATAG, “Waypoint 2050,” also released at the Forum, looks at how the aviation sector can meet its long-term climate goals. The document focuses on sustainable solutions for aircraft propulsion, fuelling and operations. It also presents practical opportunities for operational improvements in areas of light-weight aircraft cabin equipment such as catering trolleys. These, it says, can be up to one-third lighter than their predecessors, saving nearly 28,000 tonnes of CO2 annually in one airline’s operation by using lightweight composite materials.

The Waypoint 2050 report also states that weight reductions of 30% to 40% have been achieved through the introduction of lighter in-flight entertainment systems. And by replacing standard seats with lightweight, slimline models, airlines can cut weight by 30%, with one airline saving more than 21,000 tonnes in CO2 emissions a year.

These measures are longer-term solutions while aviation tackles the ongoing crisis.

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