The UAE is open for business - and as passengers board aircraft destined for these shores, the aviation industry is still reeling from the devasting effects of the pandemic, causing widespread uncertainty.
Full-year traffic is expected to drop 56 per cent in the Middle East in 2020, according to the International Air Transport Association, leaving the Middle East ‘super connectors’ like Emirates and Etihad having to deal with an increasing level of complexity in their networks, since many governments are still struggling to develop robust COVID-19 strategies to kickstart long-haul travel.
Though frequent policy changes on testing requirements and quarantines leads to greater uncertainty for airlines, airports and passengers, based on my personal business travel experiences to the UAE during the pandemic, the nation’s coordinated approach to restarting air travel is an excellent example for other governments to follow.
Passengers visiting the UAE must meet clear requirements, ranging from presenting pre-departure COVID-19 test certificates to testing on arrival, and self-quarantine protocols, subject to release of test results within 12 hours. For departures out of any airport in the UAE, a COVID-19 test certificate is also required.
The multilateral approach and close collaboration between all stakeholders in the UAE, and their unwavering commitment to the aviation industry is a key success during these critical times.
Governments must align risk-based, practical measures to allow the aviation industry to restart in a coordinated manner, while reassuring travellers, particularly business passengers. Aviation must avoid losing a large share of business travel to technology in the short- and mediumterm.
Aiming for rebound
The UAE quickly recognised this threat, reopening its borders to the majority of countries, including the US, when it was safe to do so, putting the nation in prime position to once again attract foreign businesses to support its economic diversification strategies. To keep pace with the UAE, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) should develop a dedicated framework with recommendations for governments and industry stakeholders based on safety or risk assessments, guided by scientific health experts.
These essential measures should only apply to passengers travelling between countries where there is a significant risk of contracting COVID-19, for as long as necessary to ensure both public health and passenger confidence during and after the pandemic.
Ditch the do it alone
In order to kickstart air travel in a coordinated manner, we need to follow a multilateral approach. Unilateral national measures (e.g. blanket quarantine rules in Australia, China, UK and New Zealand) can be damaging to the international travel industry and passenger confidence.
Unnecessary quarantine measures harm passenger confidence, especially business travellers. Boosting confidence to fly requires harmonised measures and a risk-based approach relying on scientific evidence. Such a step will help the entire industry restore air travel confidence, ultimately supporting the recovery.
Governments should apply various measures for the recovery of the aviation industry and the economy. Blanket quarantines should be avoided and replaced with effective testing protocols throughout the customer journey to mitigate risk.
Certified issued health certificates should be recognised by the countries, however, they need to provide support in securing solutions to share health information such as test results, while respecting data privacy laws. The irrefutable proof of a passenger’s COVID-19 status could directly link to the passenger’s e-ticket.
Integrating COVID-19 testing into the airport journey, at check-in, would help reassure passengers at time when health and safety are a primary concern. By focusing on medium-high risk countries or cities (with mutual acceptance of results), it could make travel more seamless for some.
For passengers arriving from high risk countries or cities, a combination of COVID-19 testing and a short quarantine until the verification of their results should be required. We’ve witnessed that fear and trust are at the forefront of people’s minds when planning a trip in the near future.
Keep the info coming
Therefore, regular communication from the airlines and airports to the public in close cooperation with stakeholders is essential for the mutual protection of travellers and staff.
Through the establishment of air bridges between safe countries (travel corridors), the removal of the need for quarantine when travelling shall be on the top of the agenda. By establishing the bridge model and extending protection beyond the air bridge to destination services, we could bring back the ‘old normal’ at the end of the day (inside green zones) and thousands of jobs could be saved by restoring the global economy.
Undoubtedly, the entire aviation industry can recover from this pandemic. It will take a combination of vision, creativity, compromise, commitment, discipline, operational acumen, and leadership - combined with continuous precautions.
Demonstrably, the UAE is already world-leading by taking these necessary steps... and other countries could follow in order to get the world flying again.
- Linus Benjamin Bauer is Managing Director at Bauer Aviation Advisory.