Middle East governments urged: Follow uniform guidelines to restart flights

Aviation representatives are urging governments in the Middle East to “rapidly” implement the recently released set of guidelines for the resumption of flights.

The guidelines include a series of measures to protect public health and safety in air travel, but some of them are not in line with the protocols already introduced by some airlines in the region, such as social distancing aboard the aircraft and rapid tests for passengers.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) and Airports Council International (ACI) Asia-Pacific said on Wednesday that it is essential that the new ‘Take-off Guidance’ is followed to ensure that the region can have a ‘harmonised’ restart of passenger travel and the industry can get back on its feet much faster.

Carriers in the Middle East have restarted some of their international routes and introduced strict safety protocols. Among the first to take off again, Emirates said it has not only increased sanitisation procedures, but it has also required its cabin crew to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and will be leaving the seats between individual flyers or family groups empty.

The Dubai-based airline was also the first to introduce rapid coronavirus tests to departing passengers.

However, the new set of guidelines approved by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), does not recognise leaving middle seats empty as an efficient solution to ensure passenger safety. IATA had earlier said that social distancing aboard an aircraft would be costly for airlines.

“The guidance recognises that social distancing is not possible on an aircraft, therefore supports face coverings as part of a layer risk mitigation approach. And recommends contact tracing which should give governments the confidence to open borders without quarantine measures,” said Muhammad Albakri, IATA’s regional vice president for Africa and the Middle East.

Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO said the guidelines also don’t recommend airlines to require passengers to take COVID-19 tests.

“Most of Europe’s governments have not made COVID-19 testing as a requirement for restart. That is encouraging and in line with IATA and ICAO guidelines. But testing can play a role as an extra layer of protection for countries where risk is assessed as a higher level,” de Juniac told reporters during a press briefing on Tuesday.

Albakri said they are counting on governments in the region to implement the guidelines “quickly and in a harmonised and mutually recognised way,” citing that airlines need to play a key role in the economic recovery.

If the guidelines are not followed, he said it could slow down attempts to revive an industry that has been decimated by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Local deviations and exceptions will damage public confidence and make it harder to operate effectively slowing down the industry restart. This would be harmful to public health and the economic recovery,” Albakri said.

Carriers in the region are expected to lose $4.8 billion in 2020 as passenger revenues are forecast to decline by $24 billion compared to the previous year. Airports in the region are also expected to take a hit, with an estimated total revenue loss of $7 billion, representing a 52 percent year-on-year decline in 2020.

Airlines in the region, including Emirates, have already announced massive job cuts, and industry experts said the total job losses in the aviation and related industries in the region could reach 1.2 million.


According to the ICAO-approved guidelines, airlines should ensure passengers and employees wear “face coverings and masks” and that all touchpoints are routinely sanitised and disinfected.

The guidance also prescribes health and temperature screenings of passengers, as well as “visual observation” of flyers by health professionals.

It also supports contact tracing for passengers and aviation employees and the introduction of passenger health declaration forms.

As for passenger tests, the guidance specifies these should be done only “if and when real-time, rapid and reliable testing becomes available.”


Source: https://www.zawya.com/mena/en/economy/story/Middle_East_governments_urged_Follow_uniform_guidelines_to_restart_flights-ZAWYA20200617115734/


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