Damage to be felt for years

Damage to be felt for years

Global air passenger numbers are expected to recover to 88% of pre-Covid-19 levels in 2022, according to a long term forecast released by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and Tourism Economics. This follows what is likely to be a 52% recovery in 2021.

The organisations predict the damage of the Covid-19 crisis will be felt for years to come but say people have retained their desire and need to travel.

The report notes that consumers have accumulated savings in the lockdowns, in some cases exceeding 10% of GDP. Vaccination rates in developed countries (with the notable exception of Japan) should exceed 50% of the population by the third quarter of 2021.

‘This should be a clarion call to governments to get ready,’ says Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general. ‘To avoid greater long-term economic and social damage, restart must not be delayed. Governments can facilitate a safe restart with policies that enable restriction-free travel for vaccinated people, and testing alternatives for those unable to be vaccinated. Government must also be ready with processes to digitally manage the vaccine or test certificates – ensuring that a safe restart is also efficient.’

The IATA-Tourism Economics predictions show that by 2030 global passenger numbers are expected to have grown to 5.6 billion, which would be 7% below the pre-Covid-19 forecast and an estimated loss of two to three years of growth due to the pandemic.

Airport delays could balloon

IATA is warning of potential airport chaos unless governments move quickly to adopt digital processes to manage travel health credentials such as Covid-19 testing and vaccine certificates.

IATA says that pre-Covid-19, passengers on average spent about 1.5 hours in travel processes for every journey (check-in, security, border control, customs, and baggage claim). Current data indicates that airport processing times have ballooned to three hours during peak time with travel volumes at only about 30% of pre-Covid-19 levels. The greatest increases are at check-in and border control (emigration and immigration) where travel health credentials are being checked mainly as paper documents.

Without process improvements, the time spent in airport processes could reach 5.5 hours per trip at 75% pre-Covid-19 traffic levels, and eight hours per trip at 100% pre-Covid-19 traffic levels.

‘Without an automated solution for Covid-19 checks, we can see the potential for significant airport disruptions on the horizon. Already, average passenger processing and waiting times have doubled – reaching an unacceptable three hours. And that is with many airports deploying pre-crisis level staffing for a small fraction of pre-crisis volumes. Nobody will tolerate waiting hours at check-in or for border formalities.

‘The technical solutions exist. But governments must agree digital certificate standards and align processes to accept them. And they must act fast,’ says Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general.

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