The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has urged states in the Asia-Pacific region to further ease border measures to accelerate the region’s recovery from Covid-19, and that of its aviation sector.
Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general, recommends that Asia-Pacific governments should continue easing measures and bring normalcy to air travel by removing all restrictions for vaccinated travellers; remove quarantine and Covid-19 testing for unvaccinated travellers where there are high levels of population immunity (which is the case in most parts of Asia); and that they should lift the face mask mandate for air travel when it is no longer required in other indoor environments and public transport.
“Asia-Pacific is playing catch-up on restarting travel after Covid-19, but there is growing momentum with governments lifting many travel restrictions. The demand for people to travel is clear. As soon as measures are relaxed there is an immediate positive reaction from travellers. So it is critical that all stakeholders, including governments are well-prepared for the restart. We cannot delay. Jobs are at stake and people want to travel,” added Walsh during his keynote address at the Changi Aviation Summit.
The Asia-Pacific region’s international passenger demand for March reached 17% of pre-Covid levels, after having hovered at below 10% for most of the past two years. “This is far below the global trend, where markets have recovered to 60% of pre-crisis levels. The lag is because of government restrictions. The sooner they are lifted, the sooner we will see a recovery in the region’s travel and tourism sector, and all the economic benefits that will bring,” said Walsh.
“Supporting and more importantly accelerating the recovery will need a whole of industry and government approach. Airlines are bringing back the flights. Airports need to be able to handle the demand. And governments need to be able to process security clearances and other documentation for key personnel efficiently,” he added.
China and Japan
Walsh noted that there are two big gaps in the Asia-Pacific recovery story: China and Japan. “So long as the Chinese government continues to maintain their zero-Covid approach, it is hard to see the country’s borders reopening. This will hold back the region’s full recovery,” he warned.
While Japan has taken steps to allow travel, Walsh believes the country has no clear plans for reopening to all inbound visitors or tourists. “More needs to be done to further ease travel restrictions, starting with lifting quarantine for all vaccinated travellers, and removing both the on-arrival airport testing and daily arrival cap. I urge the government of Japan to take bolder steps towards recovery and opening of the country’s borders,” said Walsh.
Walsh also calls upon Asia-Pacific governments to support the aviation industry’s sustainability efforts. “Airlines have committed to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. A key to our success will be governments sharing the same vision. There are high expectations for governments to agree a long-term goal at the ICAO Assembly later this year. Achieving net-zero requires everyone to shoulder their responsibility. And among the most important things that governments should do is incentivising the production of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF),” said Walsh. “Airlines have bought every drop of SAF that is available. Projects are underway that will see a rapid increase in SAF production over the next years. We see SAF contributing to 65% of the mitigation needed to achieve net-zero in 2050. That will require governments to be much more proactive.”
However, Walsh also acknowledged that there have been positive developments in Asia-Pacific, such as Japan committing considerable funds for green aviation initiatives and New Zealand and Singapore agreeing to cooperate on green flights.
“Singapore’s cross-industry International Advisory Panel on a sustainable aviation air hub is a positive example for other states to adopt,” said Walsh. He also calls on ASEAN and its partners to do more, particularly looking for opportunities in the region to expand SAF production.