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A4E COOs to EU Leaders: Prepare COVID-19 Operational Exit Plan for Aviation and Restore International Travel ASAP

  • The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) acknowledged EU health agency advises dropping traffic light travel map | Reuters that travel restrictions do not have a significant impact on reducing COVID-19 transmission, hospitalisations or deaths and proposes ‘to focus instead on promoting vaccination among travellers’.
  • The EU’s Digital COVID Certificate (DCC) stystem has swiftly become the de facto global standard, with over half a billion certificates from 43 countries downloaded since June.
  • Manual DCC and national passenger locator form (PLF) checks by airline staff continue to cause complexity and long airport queues — governments must provide “okay to travel” message as part of online check-in process.
  • A4E welcomes the upcoming resumption of the EU-U.S. travel corridor – however, a clear date for the reopening is urgently needed, together with an alignment of trans-Atlantic travel rules and U.S. recognition of European travellers’ DCCs.

Brussels, 13 October 2021: Leaders from Airlines for Europe (A4E) airlines including Air Baltic, the Lufthansa Group, Icelandair, Ryanair and Vueling reunited in Brussels today for the third-annual A4E COO Forum, marking the first time that A4E airlines have met in person since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Revealing the extensive changes that have affected the sector, crew members from Ryanair were on hand to check participants’ Digital COVID Certificates (DCCs) at the door. A4E airlines were actively involved in the DCC’s development last spring.

During the COO debate, the COOs of Air Baltic, Icelandair, Ryanair and Vueling discussed the wide-ranging impact the EU’s COVID-19 policies have had on their airlines over the last 18 months. Each COO shared his vision for an operational exit plan from the crisis, as well as an outlook for summer 2022 traffic. With the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) now acknowledging that EU travel restrictions have not had a significant impact on reducing virus transmission, hospitalisations or deaths — the COOs called for an immediate end to the EU’s haphazard, colour-coded system, which they claim has led to very complex rules, confusion and frustration among passengers, long airport and call centre queues, flight delays and cancellations as well as higher operational costs. An EU Operational Exit Plan from the crisis should coordinate, among other elements, common rules on:
– when to stop requesting passengers to wear face masks, as vaccination rates increase and the mandate is lifted for other modes of transport,
– when to discontinue the use of passenger locator forms (PLFs).

Aviation cannot afford to remain in pandemic mode whilst the rest of the economy restarts.

The COOs also urged EU leaders to focus on restoring international air travel as quickly as possible by building on the success of the DCC. Since its launch in June 2021, the DCC has quickly become the de facto global standard, with over half a billion certificates from 43 countries downloaded thus far. Going forward, the COOs stressed the need for national governments to speed up the development of technological solutions which could facilitate verification of DCCs as part of passengers’ usual online check-in process — ensuring a smoother travel experience whilst reducing the need for manual checks at the airport. Verification of health data should remain part of an exchange between national authorities and passengers, where airlines only receive an “OK-to-travel” message. Countries like Greece and Spain already have such a system in place, with Germany and other EU countries expected to follow.

Finally, the COOs welcomed the planned resumption of the EU-US travel corridor, which will reunite families and friends who have been separated for the last 18 months. To ensure airlines can be fully prepared, however, a clear date is urgently needed, together with an alignment of travel rules concerning vaccinated individuals and recognition by the U.S. authorities of DCCs held by European travellers.

“A common approach between the EU and the US is paramount to provide clarity and ensure passenger confidence. Travellers on both sides of the Atlantic must be assured that flights are not only back up and running – but that the system actually works in practice. To facilitate this, we have urged the U.S. authorities to use the WHO-approved vaccine list as the working basis for future discussions and we are confident that a coherent approach can be agreed in the coming weeks”, said Thomas Reynaert, Managing Director of Airlines for Europe (A4E).

European aviation remains one of the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic. Since March 2020, A4E airlines have lost 6 million flights vs 2019. According to the latest IATA forecast, Europe’s airlines are not expected to post a profit in 2021 or 2022.

 

About A4E

Launched in 2016, Airlines for Europe (A4E) is Europe’s largest airline association, based in Brussels. The organisation advocates on behalf of its members to help shape EU aviation policy to the benefit of consumers, ensuring a continued safe and competitive air transport market. With more than 720 million passengers carried in 2019, A4E members account for more than 70 per cent of the continent’s journeys, operating more than 3,000 aircraft and generating more than EUR 130 billion in annual turnover. Members with air cargo and mail activities transport more than 5 million tons of goods each year to more than 360 destinations either by freighters or passenger aircraft. Current members include Aegean, airBaltic, Air France-KLM Group, Cargolux, easyJet, Finnair, Icelandair, International Airlines Group (IAG), Jet2.com, Lufthansa Group, Norwegian, Ryanair Holdings, Smartwings, TAP Air Portugal, TUI and Volotea. Follow us on Twitter @A4Europe.