IATA also called for regional coordination to ensure that the plans can be efficiently implemented and urged governments to remain vigilant about the industry’s financial situation.
Kamil Al Awadhi, IATA Regional Vice President for Africa and the Middle East, said: “Re-establishing air connectivity will energise the economic recovery from Covid-19. With millions of jobs at risk from the prolonged shutdown, not a day should be lost once the epidemiological situation enables a re-opening. Restarting safely after a year or more in lockdown will need careful preparations.”
IATA data shows January air passenger traffic in the region was down 82.3 per cent compared to January 2019. The ongoing crisis puts over 1.7 million jobs in the Middle East and $105 billion in GDP at risk.
“This is a unique situation. But we have good practices to rely on. Safety is the top priority for anything associated with aviation. That is because governments have long established global best practices for working together with industry and with each other. This same approach will help the re-start. There are two ends to every route. Both must be prepared or the restart cannot happen,” said Al Awadhi.
IATA highlights where governments need to work together
A successful operational restart will include bringing aircraft and terminals back into service. Airlines need to ready their crew, technical personnel and aircraft. After a year of lockdowns, this requires refresher training and checks. A regional overview is needed to ensure that the one country’s restart qualifications are accepted by its regional partners and ensure that sufficient infrastructure capacity is ready to meet demand as markets unlock.
Testing and vaccinations will play a role in opening borders to travel as the pandemic comes under control. Simple, efficient, and harmonized standards for what credentials people will need to travel will boost consumer confidence and give strength to the recovery.
IATA Travel Pass will help to conveniently manage health credentials, while protecting against fraud. “With Qatar Airways already piloting IATA Travel Pass and Emirates, Etihad and Gulf Air signed-up for trials, the Gulf is at the forefront of preparations,” said Al Awadhi.
Continued financial relief essential
The financial trauma of the Covid-19 crisis continues. In 2020 Middle East airlines posted losses of US$7.1billion in 2020; a loss of $68.47 for each passenger flown. With traffic at less than 20 per cent of 2019 levels, the cash burn continues even with severe cost-cutting.
Airlines in the region received $4.8 billion in government aid in 2020. Most of this support ($4.1 billion) was distributed through direct cash injections. Despite this several airlines in the Middle East remain at risk of bankruptcy or business administration.
“A financially viable air transport sector will be needed to energize the recovery. Government relief for airlines has avoided massive failures that would jeopardize a restart. This has not been uniform across the region. With no clear timeline to recovery the situation is far from resolved. Governments that have provided relief will need to be prepared for more. And governments that have not yet stepped-up must recognise the growing risks to their economies as the crisis drags on,” said Al Awadhi.