This month I had my first trip to Asia-Pacific since arriving to ACI World almost two years ago. It was an important milestone to connect in-person again with my colleagues and with the region that is forecasted to bring the biggest increase in number of passengers, infrastructure development, and job opportunities for our sector. The main reason for travel was even more noble: I was invited by the Government of Singapore to participate in the International Advisory Panel (IAP) on Sustainability Air Hub, as well as the Singapore Air Show. It was encouraging to see Singapore take a leadership role by uniting 20 international aviation professionals to discuss and guide government actions on sustainability. As one of the most important international hubs in the world—and knowing the value of aviation to its economy and community—the gathering will undoubtedly provide a positive outcome and inspire other countries to take similar action.
In addition, it is great to be witnessing a major policy shift as countries around the world finally begin to ease travel restrictions for fully vaccinated travellers. We have seen this in India, Thailand, Vietnam, Denmark, Greece, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, Bahrain, etc. The Canadian government has announced travellers can now opt for a rapid antigen test approved by the country in which it is purchased. I hope that we will continue to see more countries added to the list in the coming weeks.
Countries are now introducing measures for which ACI has been advocating for months: that governments must opt for the implementation of risk- and evidence-based approaches for a safe return of travel. ACI now calls on governments worldwide to ease travel restrictions to restore travel, trade, and tourism.
The worldwide trend follows the recent recommendation by the World Health Organization (WHO) that governments lift or ease COVID-19 related travel restrictions: underlining that they could exacerbate economic and social stress related to the pandemic. As the WHO communicated, travel restrictions fail to prevent the international spread of the virus and are thus ineffective.
The expected growth in store for aviation will come with some challenges, one of which will be the return of furloughed or new staff. Assessment of retraining or recertification of staff will be required, depending how long they have been away from the job. ACI provides several training programs that can assist with re-skilling staff. During this transition period, safety and security must continue to be a top priority for all aviation stakeholders.
The new measures will support the recovery of the sector, increasing the number of jobs and contributing to the social and economic development of the communities we serve. Travel and tourism were among the worst hit sectors during the pandemic. The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) reports that the sector suffered a loss of almost US$4.5 trillion to reach US$4.7 trillion in 2020, with the contribution to GDP dropping by a staggering 49.1% compared to 2019; relative to a 3.7% gross domestic product (GDP) decline of the global economy in 2020.
It is not just economies that suffer but people’s livelihoods and social wellbeing. The WTTC’s One in 330 Million campaign did a wonderful job at giving a voice to those whose livelihood was affected by the pandemic. Behind every job in travel and tourism, they say, is a face, a story, a family and sometimes a whole community’s livelihood.
The aviation ecosystem, that extends to travel and tourism, must and will bounce back for the benefit of travellers and communities in all regions. We know that people are eager to travel again, and we are hopeful that the easing of travel restrictions will revive the travelling spirits as obstacles are lifted. We have seen in study after study that stringent restrictions stand in the way of passengers’ wish to travel—more so even than the pandemic itself.
During this transitional phase, the ongoing commitment to the safe resumption of travel is critical, including that of national and international regulators. One of the main challenges will continue to be coordinating and managing the mutual recognition of vaccinations, particularly as booster or third doses are introduced, and the science evolves. Requirements for health credentials should be simple, internationally agreed and adopted, interoperable across borders, and flexible. Digital solutions can offer many advantages if they work cross-border, across stakeholders, and protect customer privacy.
At the ICAO High-level Conference on COVID-19 (HLCC) last October, Ministers committed to ensuring sustained operations and the provision of essential air services while safeguarding fair competition, as well as taking effective measures to safely restore international connectivity and support the revival of the global economy. This resulted in a Ministerial Declaration which was endorsed by the entire aviation industry.
A key component of this was a multilayer risk management strategy for international civil aviation, which is adaptable, proportionate, non-discriminatory and guided by scientific evidence. What’s more, it should be with agreed practices harmonized to the greatest extent possible, for air travel purposes, using commonly accepted epidemiological criteria, testing requirements and vaccination.
We encourage States to live up to their commitments and we look forward to learning on the progress made in this regard at the 41st Assembly. As always ACI World will represent the voice of the world’s airports and will support their interests with States, ICAO, and other international organizations.
Providing the latest information and resources are some of the ways ACI will continue to support our airport members—and the greater airport community—as we rebuild our industry forward.
I invite you to attend the upcoming live webinar on the COVID-19 Economic Impact Analysis and the Path to Recovery on 23 February 2022 at 8:00 AM (EST). This is the fourth of a highly attended webinar series where Vice President of Economics Patrick Lucas and I will present the suite of ACI data and insights, the latest trends, ongoing impacts, and industry projections.
The session will also feature a brief demo of the new ACI Intelligence Hub by Janik Gagné, Senior Director, Economic Analysis and Statistical Services. The Intelligence Hub is an innovative platform allowing users to explore one of the world’s most comprehensive source for airport data in a self-serve and interactive manner.
The last two years have taken a heavy toll on all of us. However, the combination of the trajectory of the pandemic, vaccinations, treatments, and prior infection will soon make the virus more manageable.
The aviation industry has proven time and again its ability to shape and adapt to external shocks and crises. Together we can continue to responsibly take the necessary actions to step out of the shadow of the pandemic and continue to do what we do best: transporting goods and services to where they are needed most and reuniting families and loved ones from all corners of the globe.