Alexandre de Juniac (File photo: Agencies)
A world without aviation is a bleak place. We are at the height of the summer season when people should be reuniting with friends and family, or exploring the world on a well-deserved holiday. But, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, airports are largely empty and what planes are flying do so half full.
The impact of not flying goes beyond human connections and foregone vacations. Millions of jobs have gone away — at least temporarily — and the consequences for our society and the economy are huge.
Today’s situation is exceptional even for an industry that is very familiar with crises. While there is very little clarity of the future, there are four things that should give us cause for optimism.
First, many governments understand the important role that aviation will play in the eventual recovery, and they are providing relief to help keep it viable.
Second, governments are also working together to support the restart. The ICAO Take-off guidance for re-starting aviation was put together in record time with great support from all corners of the industry and from governments. And with its progressive implementation by an industry that has always put safety above all else, we are creating a safe flying experience.
Third, more governments are lifting border restrictions. The removal of Europe’s internal borders is a sign of hope. The next step is the re-opening of the external borders. This is being done more cautiously, but each step moves us in the right direction and should help give others the confidence to do the same—without adding quarantine measures that effectively keep travel and tourism in lockdown.
Fourth, medicine is rapidly advancing. Even if we don’t have a guarantee of a vaccine, indications are that fast, accurate and large-scale testing could soon be a reality. And that has the potential to be a game changer for opening up aviation even in countries that are perceived to be high-risk.
Of course, optimism about the future does not take away the pain that we are experiencing today. The first six months of this crisis have taken their toll. Industry losses are heading towards $84 billion this year. Jobs are disappearing, as are some airlines.
We must rely on our resilience and ingenuity in a crisis. It’s why we were able to keep cargo moving when the passenger business collapsed. It’s what enabled thousands of repatriation fights. It’s why our people are able to instantly adapt to whole new ways of working, to keep our industry safe, to keep smiling. And it motivates us to work with governments and our industry partners to implement the global standards needed for this new—and hopefully temporary—age of travel.
We still have a long way to go on this journey. But we should have every confidence that we will get through to the other side.
(Alexandre de Juniac is director general and CEO of the International Air Transport Association)