A week after officially taking on the role of Director General of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Willie Walsh delivered his first press briefing in which he addressed the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on international air travel.
During the briefing, Walsh revealed that international traffic was down 89% in February 2021 compared to the same time in 2019. However, he highlighted that as soon as COVID-19 constraints are relaxed, there is very strong pent-up demand. “That is what happened in Europe last summer and what we saw in Australia in February,” he explained. “So we are optimistic that as we go through the health crisis associated with the pandemic and these restrictions are relaxed or removed, we will see passenger traffic recover and recover strongly.”
He also urged governments to start planning for the removal of restrictions, as the global COVID-19 situation improves. “We want to work with governments so that they can better understand what will be required from airlines, because it’s not going to be easy for airlines just to ramp up activity. That will have to be done in a structured way because all airlines want to see that done in a coordinated and in a safe fashion.”
Referring to proof of vaccination and negative COVID-19 test requirements, Walsh explained: “It’s important for us to recognise that while the future is uncertain in the near term, we want to get back to a situation whereby the restrictions that we see in place today are removed when they are no longer needed. That means measures, such as testing, or the potential for showing vaccine certification. They should not become a permanent part of the industry. These are measures that may be necessary as temporary arrangements while we go through this crisis, but once we’re through it, we want to see these restrictions permanently removed so that people can get back to travelling as they experienced back in 2019.”
Walsh also called for the development of global standards for digital COVID-19 test and/or vaccination certificates, while outlining that “it’s important that the IATA Travel Pass is introduced and accepted” globally in order to provide passengers with a “digitised option to travel”. “We can’t have a situation where passengers are required to go to a check-in counter at an airport when they want to travel. Quite honestly, the airports that we’re operating in today aren’t designed to cope with high volumes of passengers turning up at check-in desks. The concept of self-service check-in using online or apps has become a permanent feature of the business. And we need to get back to facilitating that. And that’s where our initiative the IATA Travel Pass is so important.”
This week, IATA announced that Singapore will begin accepting the Travel Pass from 1 May. In a press release following the announcement, Walsh said: “Having the confidence of an aviation leader like Singapore accept IATA Travel Pass is hugely significant. Ongoing trials put us on track for IATA Travel Pass to be a critical tool for the industry’s restart by delivering verified travel health credentials to governments. And travellers can have complete confidence that their personal data is secure and under their own control. The success of our joint efforts will make IATA’s partnership with the government of Singapore a model for others to follow.”