KUALA LUMPUR, 24 July 2020: The Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) urges governments to ease unduly onerous restrictions on international air travel to re-establish global connectivity with evidence-based measures to safeguard public health.

More than six months into the Covid-19 pandemic, the Asia
Pacific air transport industry is taking initial steps towards restarting
international operations by working closely with governments, health
authorities and other stakeholders.

However, most international flights worldwide continue to be
grounded by border closures, and other travel restrictions, even as domestic
lockdowns are gradually eased. The economic consequences of such shutdowns are
far-reaching, with the travel and tourism sectors amongst the hardest hit.
Airline failures and major job losses have been announced within the industry
and could become more widespread as the crisis becomes prolonged. Hopes that
international air travel would gradually return in the second half of 2020 now
seem premature as governments direct attention and resources to fight resurgent
domestic infections.

Welcomed by industry, the publication of guidance material
in June by the Council Aviation Recovery Taskforce (CART) of the International
Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to anchor coordinated efforts to restart
international air travel, was a significant step in the right direction.

However, progress has been slow and sporadic on this front.
Whilst there have been initiatives and discussions about opening up
international air corridors, travel bubbles, green lanes or fast channels, such
initiatives have so far failed to take off due to their impractical
requirements and inherent unscalability to meet the reasonable expectations of
the travelling public.

Good progress is being made on widespread testing and
contact tracing, wearing of masks and social distancing, which are now
progressively being implemented by governments across the world. Such measures
are also being applied in the context of international air travel, but these
need to be consistent, based on robust risk assessments and coordinated amongst
governments working closely together with airlines, airports and health
authorities, AAPA reported.

Public attitudes towards air travel are evolving as
confidence is rebuilt. However, a major obstacle is the widespread imposition
of blanket quarantine measures by governments on inbound passengers. This makes
any attempt to travel internationally by air extremely daunting, with
questionable benefits over the need for quarantines once adequate community
testing and contact tracing measures are in place. Furthermore, the
unpredictability and changing requirements of such measures only add to the
confusion for both airlines and passengers.

Commenting on the situation, AAPA director-general Subhas
Menon said, “International isolation is not a sustainable long term
solution for any government given the importance of travel and trade in
supporting global economic and social activity. After more than six months, the
lack of a framework encompassing harmonized or mutually recognized measures
that are pragmatic, consistent and based on robust risk assessment, will not
only irretrievably hurt the region’s airlines, but more importantly, negatively
impact the region’s tourism and trade prospects, as well as millions of
livelihoods. We must take a pragmatic approach to restart flights gradually
while mitigating risks to restore confidence and trust in the reliability of
everyday air travel.”

Menon added, “Quarantine measures should only be
applied selectively for passengers originating from higher-risk locations.
Another critical area for cooperation is reaching a common understanding on the
use of COVID-19 testing as a further risk mitigation measure in screening
international passengers, based on mutual acceptance.”

He concluded, “Restoring international air connectivity
is a shared challenge. We are calling on all governments to work cooperatively
to re-establish global connectivity whilst maintaining appropriate measures to
safeguard public health.  Asia Pacific
airlines remain fully committed to working closely with governments and other
industry stakeholders to progressively restore international air links in a
safe and secure manner, serving the needs of the travelling public and enabling
the industry to continue to fulfil its key role in supporting wider global
economic recovery.”