MIAMI – Airports Council International (ACI) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) are calling the adoption yesterday by European Affairs Ministers of a Council Recommendation on travel restrictions a failure. The two groups are jointly issuing a stark warning of potential consequences.

The compromise for a Council Recommendation on a coordinated approach to the restriction of free movement in the European Union in response to the COVID-19 pandemic sets out some guidance to Member States. Yet the two aviation bodies say it falls short of what it was supposed to deliver: encouraging a restart of travel through effective coordination and proportionate, predictable and non-discriminatory measures.

Airports Council International and IATA are pushing for a common pre-departure COVID-19 testing framework to replace quarantines for passengers traveling from high-risk areas. The current lack of coordination between Member States has killed the nascent recovery of travel and tourism, jeopardizing millions of jobs associated with the sector. 

Recommendation Shortcomings

According to an IATA press release, the Recommendation:

  • Does not propose to replace quarantines by testing, effectively meaning borders remain closed
  • Leaves the door open for Member States to refuse entry to citizens traveling from other Member States. It also fails to harmonize the rules applicable for cross-border and domestic travel
  • Conflicts with the principle of the EC Communication of 13 May. That communication says that travel restrictions should be lifted between areas that have “sufficiently similar” epidemiological situations
  • Ignores the European Center for Disease Control opinion that travel restrictions and quarantines are of “questionable effectiveness” when community transmission is ongoing. This is currently the case across most of Europe
  • Does not create a sufficient window of certainty for travelers. Member Member States have only committed to publishing information on new measures 24 hours prior to their entry into force. The Commission had proposed 5 days.

ACI and IATA have called on the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Council Aviation Recovery Task Force to provide an internationally agreed and recognized approach to testing that can be adopted at a national level. The two organizations have urgently sought government intervention to protect jobs, curb debt levels, and minimize default on debt and credit losses.

ACI and IATA Comments

“The Covid-19 pandemic remains an existential crisis and airports, airlines, and their commercial partners need direct and swift financial assistance to protect essential operations and jobs,” remarked ACI world director general Luis Felipe de Oliveira.

“ACI and IATA are aligned in calling for urgent government action to introduce widespread and coordinated testing of passengers to enable quarantine requirements to be removed. Without this action, it is not an exaggeration that the industry is facing collapse,” he added.

IATA’s Director General and CEO Alexandre de Juniac said, “We need action quickly. Large parts of the global air network have been severely ruptured for well over a half year. Job losses…mount with each day that borders are closed. And with each job lost, the recovery and impact on the broader economy becomes even more difficult.”

“Momentum is building in support of testing to reopen borders. It’s the top operational priority. And to make sure that we have a viable aviation sector at the end of this crisis, a second round of financial relief is unavoidable,” de Juniac noted.

Terminal at Winnipeg International Airport. Photo: Winnipeg Airports Authority.