Home Editors' Picks Simple, predictable COVID-19 rules needed for airlines’ recovery this year — analysts

Simple, predictable COVID-19 rules needed for airlines’ recovery this year — analysts

A Philippine Airlines plane seen overhead following its takeoff from Ninoy Aquino International Airport, May 27, 2021. — PHILIPPINE STAR/ MICHAEL VARCAS

By Arjay L. Balinbin, Senior Reporter

SIMPLE, PREDICTABLE, and practical health measures are critical to the recovery of the airline industry this year amid the threat of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), analysts said.

“The pandemic needs to be treated as an endemic disease. The first priority must be to reopen borders, allowing the free flow of air travel without quarantine by managing it through testing and vaccination,” Philip Goh, International Air Transport Association (IATA) regional vice-president for Asia Pacific, told BusinessWorld in a recent e-mail interview. 

“We urge governments to adopt IATA’s blueprint for safe reopening by implementing simple, predictable, and practical measures,” he added.

Mr. Goh said this includes removing all travel barriers for those who are fully vaccinated with a World Health Organization (WHO)-approved vaccine and enable quarantine-free travel for non-vaccinated travelers with a negative pre-departure antigen test result.

The adoption of digital solutions for health credential processing, which would facilitate automated check-in and reduce airport processing and wait times, is expected to aid the airline industry’s recovery, he said. This includes implementing a pan-national digital health credential to record a passenger’s health status.

The government and the airline companies should also ensure that COVID-19 measures are “proportionate to the risk levels with a continuous review process.”

“This includes publishing risk assessments used to make decisions relating to international travel, and to review existing processes and applying a sunset clause to ensure they are in place only for as long as they are needed,” Mr. Goh said.

“Coordination between different government agencies in consultation with industry players will also be critical to bring about a coherent and effective approach.”

Anthony Oundjian, managing director and senior partner at Boston Consulting Group, said “simple rules, streamlined, and stress-free experience” are needed to get more people traveling again.

“Predictability and transparency are important. No one can plan when things keep changing, differ per region, and are not tied to a clear stable framework,” he said in a separate e-mail interview.

Avelino D.L. Zapanta, former Philippine Airlines (PAL) president and chief executive officer, said that it will take a few years to understand the extent of the damage caused by the pandemic on the travel industry, not just the transport equipment and facilities but also on the psyche of travelers and regulators.

Asked whether the airline industry will be able to afford another year of lockdowns, Mr. Zapanta said: “It will be a punishing blow but the industry will always rebound.”

For his part, Mr. Oundjian said the “severity, complexity and unpredictability” of the country’s travel restrictions feel “disproportionate and unnecessary.”

“It is urgent to press reset and unlock the potential of our industry with much simpler, leaner and predictable framework that give confidence both to travelers to book and to companies to invest.”