“Only together can we beat the virus”. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s message was crystal clear as she presented the latest EU initiatives against COVID-19 on 28 October. The Commission’s “coronavirus resurgence package” proposed a broad series of measures, covering everything from information flow between Member States to vaccine preparedness and communication to citizens. Importantly for the aviation and travel sector, guidelines and initiatives on effective rapid testing, contact tracing apps as well as ways to further support safe travel throughout Europe were also announced. Among them are plans for an EU testing protocol for travel using rapid COVID-19 antigen tests — a potential game changer for our struggling sector.
Win or lose — it’s now in the hands of Member States. For aviation, in particular, surviving this unprecedented crisis will only be possible through close cooperation and a harmonisation of measures at European level. With a second wave of the pandemic sweeping across Europe, haphazard travel restrictions and quarantine measures have further intensified.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) itself has stated that such restrictions are ineffective when the virus is already in community spread. What’s worse: the measures are confusing and frustrating for travellers, severely damaging consumer confidence.
This is why Europe’s airlines believe that establishing a European testing protocol for travel which relies on rapid antigen tests would support safe air travel and help restore confidence among passengers. As outlined in our latest position paper, we believe that testing should replace all quarantine and movement restrictions in Europe. We stand ready to support the ECDC and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in developing this protocol.
Rapid antigen testing could provide a unique solution to our sector, thanks to fast results (from 10 minutes to under an hour) and affordable prices (under €15). “Test-before-you-fly” could become the new norm in a COVID-19 world and could drastically reduce the prevalence of the virus in the travelling community.
As citizens prepare for more restrictive measures at national level to fight the virus, all eyes are on the upcoming holiday season. Recent surveys reveal travellers want clarity and predictability – they are not afraid to travel. They want to see their families and take holidays. Here, the Commission’s proposals for a broader use of contact tracing apps — which need to be interoperable between EU countries, and the development of a common digital European Passenger Locator Form would help. They would support the swift processing of information and improve data exchange between Member States. These are initiatives which A4E has been pushing for since the spring.
Similarly, the duration of quarantines should be reduced to a minimum number of days and should be unified throughout Europe for consistency. The Commission plans to work with Member States on their national testing strategies by mid-November. Airlines, too, stand ready to work with EU leaders to ensure their success.
Let’s not forget that the aviation industry is skilled at problem-solving. And safety is in our DNA. Last spring, European airlines successfully implemented health and safety protocols in line with EASA guidelines. Since then, a series of new studies has demonstrated that the risk of COVID-19 inflight infection is close to zero.Research Points to Low Risk for COVID-19 Transmission Inflight, 8 October 2020 – IATA; US DoD, Reuters article, 29 October 2020
The Commission has laid out an ambitious action plan to combat the COVID pandemic. Member States must now work together fast if we want to save Europe’s aviation sector. Millions of jobs and livelihoods are at stake. We are past the stage of declarations of intentions — we need actions. We need rapid testing as part of a layered approach to safe travel during COVID-19. This is how aviation can survive the COVID-crisis. This is how we win.