Masks are a thing of the past for Europe’s airports

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The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) have updated their Aviation Health Safety Protocol to advise that wear mask wearing is no longer mandatory on public transport, this also needs to be the case at airports and on-board aircraft.

The Aviation Health Safety Protocol, advises European States and industry on the progressive de-escalation of protective measures aimed at limiting the risk of COVID-19 infection during air travel. Reflecting the evolution of the epidemiological situation and risks  as well as the latest scientific evidence, the updated guidance also removes the requirement to ensure physical distancing within terminals and other airport areas. In addition, it removes access restrictions to airport terminals, therefore allowing passengers and all other visitors to enter and use the range of services there.

Where health checks and testing requirements remain in place, the guidance advises that States should implement ‘One Stop’ arrangements to avoid duplication between departure, transit and arrival processes.

Airports Council International (ACI) Europe’s Director General, Olivier Jankovec, welcomed the updated guidance saying: “Over the past two years, the EASA-ECDC Aviation Health Safety Protocol has been essential to ensure risk-based and uniform COVID-19 protective measures for air travel across Europe. This remains the case with today’s update, with guidelines that continue to be effective, proportionate, and practical – and which reflect the fact that an increasing number of States no longer mandate wearing face masks nor social distancing for travel.”

He also noted that with the summer season set to be a busy one, the new guidance marks another step in the safe recovery of European aviation and it will make the travel experience much more pleasant, while keeping passengers and staff safe.

Meanwhile, the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA’s) Director General, Willie Walsh commented that “Travellers can look forward to freedom of choice on whether to wear a mask. And they can travel with confidence knowing that many features of the aircraft cabin, such as high frequency air exchange and high efficiency filters, make it one of the safest indoor environments.”

Pegasus is one of the first airlines to go live with IATA’s Travel Pass

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Having signed an agreement with the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Turkish carrier Pegasus Airlines has become one of the first airlines in the world to go live with the launch of IATA’s Travel Pass app on international routes.

IATA’s Travel Pass, which allows passengers to digitally store and manage the health-related documents required for international travel, such as their COVID-19 test results and vaccine certificates, can be used while travelling to many countries on Pegasus’ international flight network.

Pegasus passengers can download the free app. It allows passengers to securely and easily verify they meet the COVID-19 related country entry requirements that have been changing throughout the pandemic. Within the scope of the app, that has been designed to protect the privacy of its users due to the sensitive nature of health-related data, the data is stored on the mobile phones of the guests instead of any central database. This gives users full control over the sharing of their personal information.

ACI World hits back at IATA’s “distorted and flawed”depiction of airport industry

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Airports Council International (ACI) World has berated the International Air Transport Association (IATA) for its “outrageous” statements that a rise in airport charges risk harming international connectivity and damaging aviation’s recovery.

IATA has painted a “distorted and flawed picture of the airport industry,” according to ACI World, which has called out the air transport association for claiming that increases in charges at airports place the burden of the recovery exclusively onto airlines. The claim was made that this would stall recovery in air travel and damage international air connectivity.

In a statement ACI World asserted that this “damaging assertion ignores the dire situation of Europe’s airports.” The association also pointed out that while airports in Europe have not only seen revenues collapsing by -60% in 2020 and by -65% in the first half of 2021, they have also been unable to reduce the predominantly fixed nature of their costs

“Airports have experienced enormous financial stress and had to make drastic cuts to keep afloat,” Luis Felipe de Oliveira, ACI World’s Director General enthused. “In many jurisdictions, airports did not receive the same level of support compared to air carriers. To keep facilities running and safe to operate cargo and humanitarian flights during the pandemic, for example, airports incurred large costs. Fundamentally, airports will always remain infrastructure-intensive businesses – this translates into a high ratio of fixed costs,” he continued.

As a result, airports have had no recourse but to take on massive debt at market conditions. Europe’s airports gross financial debt has so far increased by +200% compared to 2019.

Bleak financial prospects

And while air traffic has started to pick up, financial prospects remain bleak with most of Europe’s airports facing a cost intensive and revenue weak recovery. This is in part due to the need to scale up facilities and services to accommodate peaks in traffic while overall volumes still fail to generate the revenues required to cover costs. The airport slot usage waivers granted to airlines resulting in unused capacity are also contributing to the revenue weak recovery.

As a result of all these factors, Europe’s airports are now facing an investment crunch and many simply will not be able to financially recovery without increasing charges – unless governments step in and compensate airports for not doing so.

A recent survey of airport operators spanning all regions of the world and different sizes in terms of traffic levels showed that the majority of airports (nearly 70%) had implemented some form of discount or incentives in their airport charging schemes to address the impacts of COVID-19 and support a recovery. Also, during 2020 many airport operators deferred or waived certain airport charges in support of their airline clients.

In addition, IATA’s own data shows that during the crisis there was a decrease in user charges as a share of airline costs. An analysis of charges, which contain both air traffic control and airport charges, shows that these charges are only approximately 5% of airline cost items in 2020, and this share decreased from pre-COVID 2019 levels.

By requesting systematic freezes or reductions in airport charges, IATA is forcing airports into further financial distress to the exclusive benefit of airlines, according to ACI World. Frozen or lower airport charges would not prevent airlines form exercising their pricing power over consumers and raise air fares.

Shared responsibility

Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI Europe, has also waded into the debate to say: “We should ultimately remember that airlines can afford to pay airport charges. Airlines only pay airports if they operate, and only weeks after they have collected revenue from passengers. Airlines are ill-placed to give us a lesson in preserving the interests of customers, when they refused for months to refund passengers for flights that could not take place, with some still dragging their feet to do so.”

He added that the “long-term recovery of the air transport eco-system will be secured through stabilising and further stimulating demand. These objectives are core to airports’ pricing structures with over 95% of Europe’s airports routinely offering rebates and incentives to airlines.”

Oliveira added that “this may be a moment to rethink the economic oversight of airport charges to something that is more reflective of market conditions allowing for risk to be shared across airlines and airports. Airports will remain infrastructure-intensive businesses, which means inevitable high fixed costs which must be maintained for the benefit of passengers and the communities that airports serve. We will continue to collaborate with our airline partners and other stakeholders to rebuild a sector that is resilient and sustainable – but it needs to be fair for the entire aviation ecosystem.”

Call for greater unity

Meanwhile, the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (CANSO) also called for greater unity to tackle the industry-wide financial crisis with Simon Hocquard, CANSO’s Director General saying: “Headline statements from IATA’s annual general meeting could lead to the impression that only airlines should be allowed to recover costs. Yet organisations across the entire aviation spectrum faced a significant drop in revenues these past 20 months and have incurred substantial debt as a result of plummeting air traffic levels. The statements also undermine the considerable steps air navigation service providers (ANSPs) across the globe have taken to address their revenue shortfalls.”

ANSPs have implemented a myriad of cost-cutting measures – reducing staff numbers, cutting pay and postponing long-term investment projects. And they have done so while continuing to fulfil their role as a critical national infrastructure – keeping the skies open and safe no matter what the traffic levels.

Hocquard also explained that while airline non fuel unit costs rose 19% in 2020 compared to 2019, as fixed costs had to be spread over a dramatically smaller capacity base, Air Navigation Service charges are subject to the same phenomena. With reduced traffic, the costs of running the system at some point have to be spread over the lower traffic volume, driving costs up.

“The ATM industry has a solid record in improving productivity and cost effectiveness and on transparency with regards to its performance,” said Hocquard. “The past 20 months has turned that inside out but has not altered the fundamentals.”

He concluded by warning: “A difficult road lies ahead as we wrestle together, and individually, with that fact. This crisis has taught us many lessons, but we must be careful that the lessons we have learned from the current crisis do not undermine the lessons we have always known to be true. That cutting investment in response to a short-term crisis, has a long-term impact on capacity. Now more than ever, it is important for the entire aviation industry to come together and discuss how to tackle the financial challenges we all face and not resort to blaming each other.”

Africa’s aviation leaders highlight steps for sustainable recovery

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Following the African Airlines Association’s (AFRAA’s) Aviation Stakeholders’ Convention held on 18-19 May, AFRAA, alongside Airports Council International (ACI) Africa, the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC), the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (CANSO), the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), has issued a statement outlining the measures required to ensure a sustainable recovery of the air travel industry in Africa following the global pandemic.

While organisations in the continent’s aviation ecosystem have demonstrated great resilience thus far they are now urging the relevant authorities and decision-makers to take the necessary steps for a durable restart and recovery of Africa’s air travel industry.

These steps include: harmonisation of travel protocols; accessibility of COVID-19 testing facilities; reduction of high PCR test costs in Africa; faster rollout of Africa’s vaccine campaign; lifting of prohibitive travel restrictions; and the adoption of globally interoperable digital health passes.

The six organisations underline that these steps are key to restoring confidence and rebuilding air traffic without compromising on the health and safety of passengers and staff. Vaccines are highlighted as presenting the most efficient way out of this pandemic when coupled with testing and the current health measures in place, with African states further encouraged to adopt any form of globally interoperable digital health pass or certificate approved by the World Health Organization to seamlessly integrate into testing and travel processes. And with high PCR test costs in some African states, the organisations are also calling for leaders to consider alternative testing protocols for travel that use the more cost-effective rapid diagnostic antigen test.

Dubai Health Authority partners with Emirates on digital verification of COVID-19 medical records

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Emirates and the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) have begun to implement full digital verification of COVID-19 medical records connected to testing and vaccination for travellers based in the UAE.

Those passengers travelling with Emirates and that have taken a PCR test in Dubai can choose to check-in without presenting their physical COVID-19 PCR test report. In addition, customers who have received their COVID-19 vaccination at a DHA health centre in Dubai can, together with their COVID-19 PCR test results, have their documents synchronised during flight check-in. The new streamlined verification procedures will enable secure and faster processing times for passengers departing from Dubai International Airport.

The integration comes less than two months after the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Emirates and the Dubai Health Authority, and is a first-of-its-kind agreement between an airline and a government health authority. The integration also makes Dubai one of the first cities in the world to implement full digital verification of traveller medical records related to COVID-19 testing and vaccination.

“The UAE Government has been very supportive and is one of the leading countries in the use of technology and digital applications. This initiative is in line with the government’s vision and we are delighted to take this step within the aviation sector to cooperate with DHA in linking our systems together to enhance the customer experience by processing the relevant documents in a more efficient, secure and effective manner. Our partnership with the Dubai Health Authority in managing passenger travel is unique and is a first step towards other initiatives that will be launched in the near future,” said Adel Al Redha, COO for Emirates Airlines.

Emirates is one of the airlines that has introduced best business practices and applications to re-energize and stimulate international travel. In the coming months, the next phase of digital verification will see secure integration of health records within the IATA Travel Pass as another option to help facilitate travel for passengers.

EU’s Digital Green Certificate system to help restart travel

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Europe’s aviation sector has welcomed the European Commission’s proposal for a Digital Green Certificate system. The proposed certification scheme will require EU States to issue common, inter-operable and mutually-recognised certificates for COVID-19 vaccination, testing and recovery status that will facilitate free movement during the COVID pandemic and support the restart of travel.

Industry trade bodies including European Region Airlines Association (ERA), the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Airports Council International (ACI) Europe, the Civil Air Navigation Systems Organisation (CANSO), Airlines for Europe (A4E) and the Aerospace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD) consider these certificates a key tool to facilitate a safe and efficient resumption of travel and tourism in Europe.

A statement from the associations read: “We welcome the European Commission’s adoption of the proposal for a Digital Green Certificate. The EC has our full support and we call on the European Parliament and Council to work on its swift adoption via an emergency procedure. We need a clear path out of this crippling situation, and appeal once again to the EU Member States to implement common solutions and plan ahead in a fully coordinated and aligned way. We repeat: a safe restart of air travel is possible, and we can save both lives and livelihoods – but we need the EU to lead from the front. States must now do their part by acting in a coordinated manner, to avert yet another patchwork solution of fragmented agreements borne out of frustration and necessity.”

Revealing the strong pent-up demand for travel, recent polling showed that 54% of Europeans aim to take a trip before the end of July 2021. Among this group, 41% wish to travel to another European country, underlining the benefit of common EU framework. In addition 89% of people agree that governments need to standardise testing and vaccine certificates.

EU Governments are being urged to ensure certificates are operational in time for the peak summer travel months – with vaccination certificates, in particular enabling the elimination of restrictions to travel whilst recognising that vaccination should not be mandatory in order to travel. A more detailed plan is also needed to energise economic recovery and restore freedom of movement as soon as borders are reopened.

Reiterating their call for an EU Task Force for the Restoration of the Free Movement of People, the associations urged the European Institutions to immediately begin work on this roadmap, which needs to follow a risk-based and data-driven approach taking into account: the acceleration of the vaccine roll-out across the EU over the coming months; an ambitious and coordinated testing strategy; the evolution of the epidemiological situation; existing statistical modelling on the very limited impact of travel on COVID-19 incidence rates; and the results of COVID-19 tested flight pilots.

With the latest data released by ACI Europe showing that more than 7,500 air routes across Europe have been lost as a result of the pandemic, the situation is particularly acute in teh EU/ EEA/ Switzerland and the UK, with a -89.3% decrease in passenger volumes in February compared with a year ago. In contrast, the rest of the wider European market (including Russia and Turkey) are reporting a 56% decrease.

With the industry operating at massively reduced capacity and hundreds of thousands of staff laid off or on salary support, restarting air travel is complex. It will require the need to bring aircraft and terminals back into service and marketing and ticketed services back online.

Commenting on how the Digital Green Certificate is a major step in the right direction, CEO of the European Travel Commission and Chairman of the European Tourism Manifesto Alliance, Eduardo Santander, said: “Time is of the essence now. We need a clear plan outlining conditions and timing to prepare for the safe restart of travel and tourism in Europe to be ready for the critical summer season 2021! Europe should work on this together leaving no place for fragmentation and unilateral actions.”

Airports concerned at lack of alignment on slot relief for summer 2021

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Airports and airlines have urged the European Commission (EC) to align its proposal on airport slot relief in summer 2021 with aviation industry recommendations.

According to Airports Council International (ACI) Europe, the proposal does not sufficiently address the extent of the continuing crisis in air transport, the likely state of recovery in summer 2021 and the required level of airport slot relief measures that would best support aviation’s recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.

Airports, alongside airlines and slot coordinators negotiated a worldwide recommendation for relief measures in the Worldwide Airport Slot Board (WASB). Developed in parallel to these negotiations, the Commission proposal differs significantly from the WASB recommendation.

The EC suggests in its proposal that airport slots should be handed back three weeks prior to operation on a rolling basis, but offers no ability for airlines to return slots in bulk without risking future access to airports. In addition, the proposal also does not support airlines seeking access to airport slots in summer 2021, because they will not get the opportunity to plan for a full season or series in one go.

In contrast, the approach recommended by WASB is for carriers to be incentivised to return to their full series of airport slots in February (ahead of the summer season) in return for alleviation from airport slot usage requirements altogether. This would allow for the early reallocation of those airport slots and their ad hoc use throughout the season if needed. Similarly airlines can optimise their schedules under challenging conditions. This is an essential measure that would facilitate the industry’s ability to cater to demand when and where it materialises.

The EC proposal does not offer any alleviation and proposes that every single airport slot series be operated at least 40% of the time – an unrealistic expectation that could lead to airlines operating ‘ghost flights’ simply to maintain their slots.

While ACI Europe’s Director General, Olivier Jankovec, welcomed the EC’s efforts to make a timely proposal for summer 2021 slot relief, he warned it falls short of what is needed. “In contrast to the industry’s recommendations, the EC’s proposal does not allow for sufficient early planning opportunities for airports and airlines alike – which risks hindering recovery and adding costs,” he said. “We believe that the full package of balanced airport slot relief measures proposed by the industry should be implemented in full to ensure European aviation has a fair and level playing field to recover.” He added that ACI Europe will actively engage with all EU institutions and governments to push for the necessary changes.

Meanwhile the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA’s) Regional Vice President for Europe, Rafael Schvartzman, stated that:

The Commission’s proposal is insufficient for a crisis of this magnitude. They have ignored the expertise of airlines and airports who are experiencing first-hand the magnitude of the shifts in consumer behaviour, as well as the independent views of the slot coordinators who best understand the mechanics of slot coordination. The industry is proposing a smarter and more agile policy that will support recovery, facilitate slot mobility, and ensure that consumers have access to competitive services when demand returns. We stand ready to work with the EU institutions to see the changes needed to make good of this proposal.

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.

 

 

IATA issues safe travel guidelines

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As airports and airlines around the world continue to resume operations for commercial traffic, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has revealed eight changes to air travel to ensure that passengers and staff remain safe.

The eight changes include the wearing for face coverings and masks by passengers and aviation workers; more frequent and deeper airport cleaning and sanitisation of airports and aircraft; health screening including self-declaration and temperature screening; greater use of contactless and self service processes; physical distancing in the airport where possible; simplified cabin services to lower movement and interaction with passengers; limited movement in the cabin during flight to reduce congregation of passengers; and contactless procedures for customs and border protection on arrival.

IATA is also encouraging passengers to wear protective face coverings on public transport when travelling to the airport and to be aware that many airports will restrict terminal access to passengers, staff and those accompanying passengers with reduced mobility or unaccompanied children.

IATA has also teamed up with Airports Council International (ACI) World to call for costs related to public health measures aimed at mitigating the spread of communicable diseases should be borne by governments. The two associations argue that as the industry begins to restart and plan for a long-term, sustained recovery, the health and safety of passengers and staff remains the foremost priority for airports and airlines. But they also underline that there needs to be harmonisation in the solutions that are implemented and indeed that the World Health Organization’s International Health Regulations require governments to pay the costs of health measures.

“The aviation industry wants to get the world moving again,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO. “We have successfully worked with ICAO (the International Civil Aviation Organisation) and many governments worldwide to put in place standardised protocols that safeguard public health and give travellers the confidence to return to the skies. But the industry is still on the edge of a financial precipice. The extra costs of health measures mandated by governments must – as the WHO recommends – be borne by governments. That will enable the industry to focus scarce resources on reconnecting the world and boosting economic recovery.”

ACI World’s Director General Luis Felipe de Oliveira agreed saying: “ACI believes the cost of any health measures that are required should be borne by governments. ACI and IATA are aligned on this issue, as set out in the Safely Restarting Aviation – ACI and IATA Joint Approach which was our input to ICAO’s TakeOff guidance. This laid out that public funding of health measures should be ensured, including but not limited to infrastructure or operational changes needed for their implementation.”