COVID19: Lack of effective EU coordination killing air travel

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Although emerging news of an effective vaccine gives reason for hope, airports along with the rest of the aviation sector cannot simply wait for herd immunity, said ACI Europe’s President Jost Lammers.

Lammers said: “We need another – immediate and interim solution to go through the Winter and probably most of next Summer.

“The solution lies in replacing quarantines for air travellers with testing. This is about doing better managing and reducing transmission risks – and saving livelihoods.”

The head of Airports Council International Europe made the comments during Tuesday’s keynote speech at the ACI’s virtual Annual Congress in Brussels.

Lammers challenged the assumption that requiring air travellers to quarantine is a zero-risk response to the global pandemics.

“Quarantines only work to the extent they can effectively be enforced.

“We all know this is very challenging and generally not the case. They also do not prevent infected people from travelling in the first place. The assumption that quarantines are a zero-risk approach must be reconsidered.”

Infection rates, passenger traffic

Lammers framed his comments in the context of a new analysis released by ACI EUROPE.

Covering the months of July, August and September when air traffic experienced a timid recovery on the back of State lifting travel restrictions, this analysis reveals that increases in air passenger volumes are not correlated to any level of statistical significance with changes in COVID-19 infection (positivity) rates in Europe.

This analysis supports the position of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), which considers that travel restrictions are not effective in situations where community transmission is already present – as is the case across Europe.

Lammers pointed to the endorsement by the European Commission of rapid antigen testing as being a “step in the right direction. This must now be complemented by more effective and joined up contact tracing at European level”.

“We are deeply frustrated by the lack of effective co-ordination and progress at EU level on all these issues,” he said.

“This is hurting livelihoods by the day. Many of our people have lost their jobs already, with more being at risk in the coming weeks”.

“This leaves us no other choice but to urge European Governments to work with other like-minded Governments to test air travellers and lift travel restrictions on a bilateral basis.”

Lammers called for a balanced approach to financial support the aviation eco-system

Such a State aid framework would enable EU support beyond 2021 with Governments providing financial support accordingly.

The ACI proposals include as a priority:

  • Extending supportive unemployment schemes for all staff working at airports.
  • Compensating airports for lost revenues for as long as travel restrictions prevent recovery.
  • Connectivity Support Schemes to financially support the restoration of air services in a non–discriminatory way.

With close to 200 European airports on the brink of insolvency, the risk of a permanent shut down in air connectivity is a tangible threat.

Lammers is the President and CEO of Munich Airport. He was appointed as President of ACI EUROPE in June 2019.

ACI EUROPE is the only worldwide professional association of airport operators, representing over 500 airports in 46 European countries.