Iata projects travel recovery in 2022, calls for border restrictions to be eased

Total passenger numbers are expected to increase to 3.4 billion next year from 2.3 billion in this year, Iata said. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

There is little evidence to support ongoing strict border restrictions, said the International Air Transport Association (Iata), as it projected a recovery for the long-suffering global commercial aviation industry.

International travel demand is expected to double next year and reach 44 per cent of the 2019 level, the association projected, as it kicked off its 77th Annual General Meeting in Boston, United States, on Monday (Oct 4).

Domestic travel demand next year is estimated to reach 93 per cent of the pre-pandemic level - an improvement of 20 percentage points from this year, it said.

Total passenger numbers are expected to increase to 3.4 billion next year from 2.3 billion in this year, Iata said, but they will still be below the 4.5 billion in 2019. The total numbers for next year are projected to be 75 per cent of 2019 numbers.

The association, which comprises 290 global airlines, making up 82 per cent of total air traffic, projected that net losses would narrow to US$11.6 billion (S$15.8 billion) next year, from US$51.8 billion this year. This is higher than an earlier 2021 projection of US$47.7 billion.

Losses for last year have been revised up - to US$137.7 billion - from the US$126.4 billion estimated earlier.

The gathering also saw aviation leaders calling for a simplified risk management protocol for the reopening of borders, with similar and standardised cross-border checks.

"Travel restrictions bought governments time to respond in the early days of the pandemic," said Mr Willie Walsh, Iata's director-general.

"Nearly two years later, that rationale no longer exists. Covid-19 is present in all parts of the world. Travel restrictions are a complex and confusing web of rules with very little consistency among them. And there is little evidence to support ongoing border restrictions and the economic havoc they create."

He noted that testing results for arriving passengers to Britain demonstrate that travellers were not adding risk to the local population.

"Of the three million arrivals between February and August, only 42,000 tested positive - or fewer than 250 a day. Meanwhile, the daily case count in the UK is 35,000 and the economy - apart from international travel - is wide open. People should be just as free to travel," he said.

In the last months, several key markets that had previously been closed have taken steps to open to vaccinated travellers.

Passengers at Heathrow Airport in London on July 7, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

Among markets that were previously closed, Europe was an early mover, followed by Canada, Britain, the United States and Singapore.

Even Australia, which has some of the most draconian restrictions, is taking steps to reopen its borders to vaccinated travellers by next month, Mr Walsh said.

Iata also addressed the issue of climate change and sustainability in aviation at the meeting, which ends on Wednesday (Oct 6).

It called for governments and the industry to step up and increase their collaboration, especially in the area of increasing the availability and reducing the cost of sustainable aviation fuels.

The organisation approved a resolution for the global air transport industry to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. This commitment will align with the Paris agreement goal of global warming not exceeding 1.5 deg C.

"The world's airlines have taken a momentous decision to ensure that flying is sustainable," Mr Walsh said.

"The post-Covid-19 reconnect will be on a clear path towards net-zero. That will ensure the freedom of future generations to sustainably explore, learn, trade, build markets, appreciate cultures and connect with people the world over.

"With the collective efforts of the entire value chain and supportive government policies, aviation will achieve net-zero emissions by 2050," he added.

But Iata also acknowledged that achieving net-zero emissions will be a huge challenge.

The aviation industry must progressively reduce its emissions while accommodating the growing demand of a world that is eager to fly.

To be able to serve the needs of the 10 billion people expected to fly in 2050, at least 1.8 gigatons of carbon must be abated in that year. Moreover, the net-zero commitment implies that a cumulative total of 21.2 gigatons of carbon will be abated between now and 2050.

A key immediate enabler is the International Civil Aviation Organisation's Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation. This will stabilise international emissions at 2019 levels in the short to medium term. Support for this was reaffirmed in the resolution.

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