Airports brand European Council’s cross-border travel restrictions a failure

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Following the adoption on Tuesday 13 October by European Affairs Ministers of a Council Recommendation on travel restrictions, airports and airlines across the aviation sector have branded it a failure and issued a stark warning of the potential consequences.

While the Council recommendation sets out guidance to member states on a coordinated approach to the restriction of free movement it fails to encourage a restart of travel through effective coordination and proportionate, predictable and non-discriminatory measures, according to aviation bodies Airports Council International (ACI) Europe, Airlines for Europe (A4E) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Stakeholders across Europe’s aviation industry are pushing for a common pre-departure COVID-19 testing framework to replace quarantines for passengers travelling from high risk areas, in order to re-establish freedom of movement in Europe. However, the Council Recommendation does not propose to replace quarantines with testing, effectively meaning borders remain closed. It also fails to harmonise the rules applicable for cross-border and domestic travel and ignores the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s opinion that travel restrictions – and in particular quarantines – are of ‘questionable effectiveness’ when community transmission is on-going, which is currently the case across much of Europe.

ACI Europe says that expectations for an effective solution now rest with the European Commission, which has charged the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and ECDC with the development of an EU Testing Protocol for Travel.

Pressure mounts to drop quarantines in favour of testing protocol

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Pressure from European airports as well as other aviation stakeholders has intensified to drop quarantines in favour of an EU-wide passenger testing protocol.

Aviation bodies, including Airports Council International (ACI) Europe, Airlines for Europe (A4E) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) have outlined a common framework for pre-departure testing to re-establish freedom of movement in Europe ahead of the upcoming holiday season. This will provide far greater assurance and the ability for cross-border travel, that will enable travellers to plan family reunions or vacations. ACI Europe has also underlined this will serve as a lifeline to the millions of workers in the travel and tourism sectors whose jobs remain at risk.

All three organisations state unequivocally that a common testing protocol would further reduce transmission risks, restore confidence among the travelling public and protect livelihoods by allowing the travel and tourism sectors to begin their recovery.

The proposed framework is based on two overarching principles: Quarantines must be replaced by testing prior to departure – Research has established that 65% of travellers agree that quarantine should not be requried for passengers who test negative for COVID-19. Furthermore, travel restrictions must be coordinated and based on common risk assessment. This supports the risk assessment criteria and the common colour coding system/ mapping of designated areas already proposed by the European Commission, but which is yet to be endorsed and fully implemented by other EU states.

Data from IATA show air traffic to, from and within Europe is down by 66.3% year to date and the latest figures from ACI Europe reveal that as of 27 September passenger traffic in the EU had further plunged to -78%. Following a letter sent to the European Commission President von der Leyen on 17 September calling for action to help prevent the further demise of the industry, industry bodies have now submitted a framework for how an EU-wide testing protocol for travel (EU-TPT) could work.

The associations have reiterated their calls for the Commission and Member States to prioritise the development and implementation of the testing protocol. “We need to learn to live – and travel – with the virus,” the letter said. “Re-establishing the free movement of people and air connectivity across our continent in a safe way must be a priority.”

A testing protocol would allow for passengers to travel in a safe and harmonised way, rather than having their plans disrupted and made uncertain by constantly moving quarantine goal posts.

The letter also highlighted the continually worsening outlook for passenger demand along with crippingly low forward bookings for the winter season – down -80% from 2019. The planning certainty and risk-based safety of a common testing protocol would give European countries an effective way to reduce transmission both in communities and during air travel whilst stimulating the economy.



EUROCONTROL study highlights impact of COVID-19 measures on airports

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In a bid to help airports plan their recovery following the coronavirus pandemic, EUROCONTROL has published a study highlighting actions needed to improve performance when implementing COVID-19 measures.

Compiled by the Airport Research Center (ARC) in collaboration with Airports Council International (ACI) Europe and other industry partners, the study underlines the need for airports need to focus on reducing the impact of space constraints as well as the need for national authorities to harmonise measures across EU Member States. It explores the impact of measures introduced as a result of COVID-19 on terminal operations, such as passenger journey time, terminal throughput and boarding gate processing capacity.

Describing the study as “providing airports with a detailed set of process assessments indicating where they need to focus as traffic recovers,” Eamonn Brennan, EUROCONTROL’s Director General, added, “It highlights the vital importance of harmonisation of measures for air travel, key to passenger confidence and efficiency.”

Emphasising the urgent need to address space constraints within airports, the study found that, for the same passenger numbers in a pre-COVID queue, 50% more space is required at check-in, 100% more space at security control and 35-50% more space at boarding gates. It also found 30-50% more space is required for baggage reclaim, and up to 10 minutes additional time to the departing passenger journey.

The study found that airports need to focus on key limiting components – security control/ immigration in terms of throughput challenges, and boarding gates and baggage reclaim in terms of space constraints. It also noted that airports congested before the COVID pandemic can expect to reach their maximum saturation capacity at just 60-75% of their peak 2019 traffic. In line with the call from various industry bodies, the study concludes that greater harmonisation in terms of COVID measures supporting passenger safety and re-building trust is essential across EU Member States.

European airports report slow recovery

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With only a marginal increase in traffic for June European airports have revised their recovery projection to 2024.

Passenger traffic across Airports Council International (ACI) Europe’s network stood at -93% in June compared to the same period last year – a marginal improvement over May which saw a -98% movement in passenger traffic. Compared with the 240 million passengers travelling through their doors in June 2019, Europe’s airports only welcomed 16.8 million passengers in June 2020.

“It’s a slower pace than we’d hoped for,” says ACI Europe Director General, Olivier Jankovec.

The initial data for July also indicates we’re likely to recover only 19% of last year’s traffic rather than the 30% we had forecast. This is down to the still incomplete lifting of travel restrictions within the EU/ Schengen area and the UK – as well as the permanence of travel bans for most other countries. The fact that EU and Schengen states have nto yet managed to effectively coordinate and align over their travel policies does not help, as it is not conducive to restoring confidence in travel and tourism in the middle of the peak summer season.

In its revised traffic forecast, ACI Europe is now predicting that a full recovery in passenger traffic to 2019 levels is now expected for 2024, rather than 2023 as per the previous forecast issued in May. It also notes that Europe’s airport’s are set to lose -1.57 million passengers in 2020, a decrease of -64% compared to the previous year with airport revenues set to decrease by -€32.4 billion in 2020.

ACI also highlights that airport revenues are being significantly impacted by the fact that reinstated flights are generally achieving low load factors, with passenger volumes trailing behind flight numbers. While airport operating costs are driven by aircraft movements, the bulk (76%) of their revenues come from passengers (through passenger charges for the use of their facilities and passenger-driven commercial revenues – in particular retail).

“The financial situation of airports is not significantly improving… Considering that the peak summer season normally accounts for a large share of annual revenues and the fact that the temporary unemployment schemes are coming to an end in many EU States liquidity will remain an on-going concern through the winter. Many airports, especially smaller regional airports, will need financial relief,” said Jankovec.