International airline traffic is in the doldrums, and most experts don’t expect any significant recovery until later this year. Many are pinning their hopes on the widespread rollout of a successful COVID-19 vaccine. Others are saying airlines need more than a vaccine to bounceback. They say a combination of factors will come into play before the airline industry can recover from COVID-19.
Speaking at an Aviation Week webinar on Thursday, Director General of the Association of Asia-Pacific Airlines (AAPS) Subhas Menon said three factors would need to come into play before airlines can recover from COVID-19.
Mr Menon said there doesn’t just need to be a COVID vaccine rollout; there needs to be an equitable rollout. Next, there needs to be coordination and harmonization of border measures, travel protocols, and vaccination recognition. Finally, airlines need to plan for life after COVID-19.
The inequitable rollout of COVID-19 a barrier to air travel resuming
Previously, the AAPA Director-General has called out the inequitable rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination.
“It’s a tale of two halves: the haves and have not,” Mr Menon said earlier this month. “It seems like while the developed world will be done and dusted with regards to immunization by the end of the year, the developing and emerging world is on a very, very long and slow road to achieve the same result.
“Unfortunately, economic recovery cannot just hinge on the recovery of the developed world. Nor can travel recovery just proceed with travel among the developed world.”
Speaking to Aviation Week’s Karen Walker on Thursday, Subhas Menon doubled down on his argument. He reiterated that there needs to be vaccine equity for the airline industry to start to recover. While first-world countries have vaccination programs well underway, that’s not the case in most developed and emerging countries. But Mr Menon says this is an essential requirement if air travel is to recover.
AAPA’s Subhas Menon calls for international coordination & harmonization
Secondly, the AAPA boss flagged the need for international co-ordination and harmonization regarding border restrictions, travel restrictions, travel protocols, and recognition of vaccination status. Mr Menon says this lack of harmonization is the single most important impediment to air travel recovery. He says it will be very difficult for people to travel if authorities in one country don’t recognize a vaccination certificate issued in another.
“It’s a huge challenge,” Subhas Menon said this week. “It will take effort on the part of foreign governments, and of course the industry, to try and iron out all these confusing and disparate measures that different places have adopted. And not just by different countries, but also within countries.”
Finally, the AAPA Director General said airlines needed to pay attention to what’s going to happen once the impact of COVID-19 subsides.
“We need to focus our attention on what’s next,” he says. The airline industry needs to plan ahead and be focused on “smart, sustainable, and safe aviation.”
Cautiously optimistic about the airline industry’s future
While Mr Menon believes this year will pose significant challenges for airlines, notably for airlines across his home turf, the Asia-Pacific region, he remains relatively upbeat about the future of air travel.
“I’m going to sound a note of cautious optimism,” he says. A year into the biggest crisis the airline has ever faced, most airlines are still around. That in itself is cause for optimism. He argues governments and private investors are getting behind the strong airlines with the best prospects, helping fund them through the downturn. That’s going to keep the industry ticking over until travel demand returns.
Arguably, the most important factor is the pent-up demand for travel. COVID-19 and its implications may have presently deterred people from flying. However. Mr Menon believes once COVID-19 is successfully dealt with, travel demand will bounce back, and that will see the airlines rebound. Most of the surviving airlines will come back leaner, better positioned, and stronger than ever.
What’s your opinion? Is Mr Menon on the money here? Are there other factors that need to get taken into account? Post a comment and let us know?