IATA urges Asia-Pacific states to ease border measures
The International Air Transport Association seeks to accelerate the recovery of connectivity
“Asia-Pacific is playing catch-up to restart travel after COVID-19, but there is growing momentum with governments lifting many travel restrictions. The demand for people to travel is clear. As soon as the measures are relaxed, there is an immediate positive reaction from travellers. Therefore, it is critical that all stakeholders, including governments, are well prepared for the restart. We can't be late. There are jobs at stake and people want to travel,” said IATA Director General Willie Walsh in his keynote address at the Changi Aviation Summit.
International passenger demand from the Asia-Pacific region in March reached 17% of pre-COVID-19 levels, after being below 10% for most of the past two years. “This is well below the global trend where markets have recovered to 60% of pre-crisis levels. The delay is due to government restrictions. The sooner they are lifted, the sooner we will see a recovery in the region's travel and tourism sector, and all the economic benefits that it will bring," Walsh said.
Walsh urged Asia-Pacific governments to continue to ease measures and normalize air travel by:
Elimination of all restrictions for vaccinated travelers.
Eliminate quarantine and COVID-19 testing for unvaccinated travelers where there are high levels of population immunity, as is the case in most of Asia.
Lift the mask mandate for air travel when it is no longer required in other indoor settings and public transportation.
“Supporting and, more importantly, accelerating the recovery will need a comprehensive approach from industry and government. Airlines are bringing flights back. Airports must be able to handle the demand. And governments need to be able to process security clearances and other documentation for key personnel efficiently,” Walsh said.
China and Japan
Walsh pointed out that there are two big gaps in the Asia-Pacific recovery story: China and Japan.
“As long as the Chinese government continues to maintain its zero COVID approach, it is difficult to see the country's borders reopening. This will slow down the full recovery of the region.
While Japan has taken steps to allow travel, there is no clear plan for reopening Japan to all incoming visitors or tourists. More needs to be done to further ease travel restrictions, starting with lifting the quarantine for all vaccinated travelers and removing both airport testing on arrival and the daily arrival limit. I urge the government of Japan to take bolder steps towards recovery and opening of the country's borders," Walsh said.
Walsh also called on governments in Asia and the Pacific to support the industry's sustainability efforts.
“Airlines have committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050. A key to our success will be governments that share the same vision. Expectations are high that governments will agree on a long-term goal at the ICAO Assembly later this year. Achieving net zero requires everyone to take responsibility. And among the most important things governments should do is encourage the production of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF). Airlines have bought every drop of SAF available. There are projects underway that will see a rapid increase in SAF production in the coming years. We see SAF contributing to 65% of the mitigation needed to achieve net zero by 2050. That will require governments to be much more proactive,” Walsh said.
Walsh acknowledged that there have been positive developments in Asia-Pacific. Japan has committed considerable funds to green aviation initiatives. New Zealand and Singapore have agreed to cooperate on green flights. "Singapore's cross-industry International Advisory Panel on a sustainable aviation air hub is a positive example for other states to adopt," Walsh said. He also called on ASEAN and its partners to do more, particularly looking for opportunities in the region to expand SAF production.