Geneva – The International Air Transport Association (IATA) called for the development and deployment of rapid, accurate, affordable, easy-to-operate, scalable, and systematic COVID-19 testing for all passengers before departure as an alternative to quarantine measures in order to re-establish global air connectivity. IATA will work through the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and with health authorities to implement this solution quickly.
International travel is 92% down on 2019 levels. Over half a year has passed since global connectivity was destroyed as countries closed their borders to fight COVID-19. Some governments have cautiously re-opened borders since then, but there has been limited uptake because either quarantine measures make travel impractical or the frequent changes in COVID-19 measures make planning impossible.
“The key to restoring the freedom of mobility across borders is systematic COVID-19 testing of all travelers before departure. This will give governments the confidence to open their borders without complicated risk models that see constant changes in the rules imposed on travel. Testing all passengers will give people back their freedom to travel with confidence. And that will put millions of people back to work,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.
The economic cost of the breakdown in global connectivity makes investing in a border-opening testing solution a priority for governments. The human suffering and global economic pain of the crisis will be prolonged if the aviation industry—on which at least 65.5 million jobs depend—collapses before the pandemic ends. And the amount of government support needed to avert such a collapse is rising. Already lost revenues are expected to exceed $400 billion and the industry was set to post a record net loss of over $80 billion in 2020 under a more optimistic rebound scenario than has actually unfolded.
IATA’s public opinion research revealed strong support for COVID-19 testing in the travel process. Some 65% of travelers surveyed agreed that quarantine should not be required if a person tests negative for COVID-19.
Passengers’ support for testing is evident in the following survey results:
- 84% agreed that testing should be required of all travelers
- 88% agreed that they are willing to undergo testing as part of the travel process
In addition to opening borders, public opinion research also indicated that testing will help to rebuild passenger confidence in aviation. Survey respondents identified the implementation of COVID-19 screening measures for all passengers as effective in making them feel safe, second only to mask-wearing. And, the availability of rapid COVID-19 testing is among the top three signals that travelers will look to for reassurance that travel is safe (along with the availability of a vaccine or a treatment for COVID-19).
IATA’s call is to develop a test that meets the criteria of speed, accuracy, affordability, and ease of use and that could be administered systematically under the authority of governments following agreed international standards. IATA is pursuing this position through ICAO, which is leading efforts to develop and implement global standards for the safe operation of international air services amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The evolution of COVID-19 testing is progressing rapidly on all parameters—speed, accuracy, affordability, ease of use, and scalability. Deployable solutions are expected in the coming weeks. “By calling for the establishment of a global approach to COVID-19 testing for all passengers before departure we are sending a clear signal of aviation’s needs. In the meantime, we are gaining practical knowledge from the testing programs that already exist as part of the various travel bubble or travel corridor initiatives around the world. We must continue with these valuable programs which move us in the right direction by building testing experience, facilitating essential travel, and demonstrating testing effectiveness,” said de Juniac.