Countries with large domestic passenger markets like China and the U.S. will likely have their aviation sectors on the road to recovery by the end of 2021, while other countries will take longer because they depend upon restarting international travel to have their aviation sectors begin recovering from the pandemic.
Restarting international air service requires agreement between countries citing evidence the pandemic has been controlled in each or their respective markets and the well-being of the traveler is now safe. According to Raphael Guillet, Chief of the ICAO Asia Pacific Regional Sub-Office, the biggest obstacle to resuming travel in the Asia Pacific Region is the lack of trust between countries.
Given this lack of trust, countries must demonstrate a controlled pandemic through a combination of vaccination and herd immunity. Vaccination progress vary across the Asia-Pacific Region and worldwide. Most large countries will not complete their vaccination programs until early to mid-2022. Other countries will need until 2024. Thus, the return of international travel will be uneven, as pairs of countries regain their mutual trust and negotiate bi-lateral agreements. To enable re-opening of borders without quarantine on a multilateral scale, governments need to be confident they are effectively mitigating the risk of importing COVID-19. This means having accurate information on passengers’ COVID-19 health status. As covered in the February LAB Brief, Industry efforts such the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Travel Pass, which is intended to be a global standardized solution to validate and authenticate COVID-19 passenger travel requirements, will be a key indicator to facilitate standardization. As a result, the time required for governments to reopen the borders remains uncertain and could vary greatly between countries, therefore, slowing down the international recovery process.
Preventing the spread COVID-19 and distributing the vaccine will remain the number one priority worldwide in 2021 and likely into 2022 and beyond.
Airlines Trialing IATA Travel Pass
Source: International Air Transport Association
The worldwide hazard is that the virus will mutate to a new form that is immune to vaccines prior to the completion of a worldwide vaccination program. Therefore, the case for facilitating the international distribution of the vaccine is compelling.
Large country aviation systems will continue to weather this pandemic more easily than small countries, due to their airlines having domestic networks that provide at least a portion of their revenues. Small country airlines, which relied almost exclusively on international travel, have lost most of their revenues and traffic. Their airlines will restart from much weaker financial conditions and without substantial government assistance.
Aviation facilitated the worldwide spread of COVID-19 prior to being decimated by its consequences. Restarting international aviation depends on lifting various border restrictions and regaining passenger confidence. A traffic rebound will most certainly occur only with the continuous improvements in rapid COVID testing accuracy and accelerating vaccination programs.