In a significant development, following the wrapping up of the first meeting of global airlines, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), said confusion over air travel restrictions is holding back the sector’s fragile recovery from the Coronavirus-induced COVID-19 pandemic which brought the industry to its knees.
While voicing optimism about pent-up demand the IATA said, it is governments need to harmonize disjointed border rules so that the industry does not slip back into recession.
“People want to fly. We’ve seen strong evidence of that,” said IATA’s Director General Willie Walsh. “They can’t fly because we have restrictions that are impeding international travel.”
IATA expects international travel to double next year and reach 44% of pre-crisis 2019 levels. In contrast, domestic travel is tipped to reach 93% of the pre-pandemic levels.
Some of the leaders of the airline and leasing companies were unable to attend the industry’s annual gathering in Boston following disjointed border rules; some also had to carve out extra time for quarantine.
Airlines called for an end to restrictions on vaccinated travelers and for common health protocols at borders, though global coordination in aviation tends to move at a deliberate pace.
“Frankly, governments haven’t made it easy for airlines or for the traveling public to understand what the rules are to fly,” said Joanna Geraghty, president of JetBlue which hosted the gathering in a hotel shared with domestic tourists.
The head of Dubai’s Emirates, who has been among the most bullish executives on the prospects for recovery once restrictions end, said bookings in markets that were reopening like Britain and the United States had “gone up exponentially.”
“That reflects a bow-wave of demand that we are seeing everywhere,” said Tim Clark while adding, “The demand for air travel will restore itself… sooner rather than later.”
The industry were buoyed by the Biden Administration’s decision to reopen the United States in November to air travelers from 33 countries including in Europe on the vital trans-Atlantic run.
IATA warned serious challenges remained for carriers, while venting frustration at airports and other suppliers for not doing enough to share the pain inflicted by the crisis.
Although the Biden Administration has yet to set a date for lifting travel restrictions on Europeans, JetBlue expects it to happen ahead of the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday next month.
“If the reopening is delayed, we are going to face consequences across the industry,” said Chief Executive Robin Hayes after chairing the October 3-5 conference.
In a statement, AerCap, the world’s largest leasing company said, “A successful reopening of the world’s most important long-haul market would set a trend for other markets to follow”.
“Airlines… don’t have the resilience they had,” said Chief Executive Aengus Kelly to an audience of airline leaders. “They just can’t afford for this to go wrong.”