France, Singapore: Key partners in reconnecting a pandemic-disrupted world

In the months to come, thanks to mass vaccination, air traffic will hopefully progressively recover and expand from domestic flights to regional and inter-regional flights. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

It is with great hope and anticipation that I visit Singapore, one of France's major partners in the region. As the French Minister of Transport, I did not want to miss the inauguration of the new Vaccinated Travel Lane between our two countries.

The reopening of travel is a much-awaited and welcome move. For almost two years, connections have been severely hit by border restrictions. This summer, global air travel was just half its pre-pandemic level. The Asean region suffered a 98 per cent drop in international travel from 2019 levels.

Not only did the curtailment of air travel have a huge impact on tourism, but it also had far-reaching effects on our lives, impoverishing companies and workers, hindering people-to-people relations, leaving Changi Airport and Paris airports deserted. The 11,000km that separate our two countries have never felt so real as in the past 18 months.

Fortunately, both our governments were quick to respond. With the "Emerging Stronger Taskforce" and the French recovery plan, we helped airlines survive.

In the months to come, thanks to mass vaccination, we hope that air traffic will progressively recover and expand from domestic flights to regional and inter-regional flights. Economic recovery is under way, but it will not be complete without air travel recovery.

By supplying masks and vaccines all around the globe, aviation played a critical role in this crisis. By keeping supply chains moving, by facilitating people-to-people exchanges, by contributing to world economic development, it will play a critical role in the post-crisis world.

We must adapt air traffic to this "new world", and we must do so in a harmonised way.

Based on overall vaccination rates, no-quarantine schemes (and no testing schemes) such as Vaccinated Travel Lanes could be expanded over time in larger areas, especially throughout South-east Asia. Principles of proportionality and reciprocity will be at the core of these new connections.

We also need to make boarding as simple as before. Going from Singapore to Jakarta, Bali, Bintan, Hanoi or Saigon used to be so easy: We have to find back the pleasure that comes with hassle-free embarkations on journeys through Jewel at Changi - which is why we should ensure international interoperability of vaccination certificates.

Air travel recovery needs to be not just safe, but also green. The COP26 in Glasgow is one month away, and the next ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) General Assembly one year away: These are unique opportunities to turn the air industry greener.

In Europe, the "Fitfor55" package aims to reduce 55 per cent of our emissions by 2030, in order to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. To achieve zero-carbon flying, we need to promote the use of sustainable aviation fuels and foster innovation. As a matter of fact, that is precisely what France is doing: We are investing billions of dollars in green hydrogen and developing hybrid, electric and lighter aircraft.

During my stay in Singapore, I hope to have a closer view of the numerous forms of cooperation between French and Singaporean companies on green technologies: Through their partnership in Airlab, for instance, Thales and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore are exploring new concepts of air traffic management technologies.

Partnerships are key. They were so before the pandemic, and they will be even more so after. The partnership between France and the European Union on the one hand, and the one between Singapore and Asean on the other hand, are essential to air connections. The conclusion of the Asean-EU Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement in June was a big step forward. The recently released EU strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific reaffirms the two regions' partnership on connectivity. France will make the EU strategy for cooperation in Indo-Pacific one of the priorities of its presidency of the Council of the European Union, which starts next year.

I am enthusiastic about spending the coming days in Singapore, and look forward to reinforcing the relationship between our two countries.

  • Mr Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, the Transport Minister of France, is in Singapore today and tomorrow, during which he will meet Minister for Transport S. Iswaran and Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Sim Ann to discuss greater cooperation in air, land and maritime transportation.