Collective approach

Intergovernmental collaboration on restoring travel freedom, consistency in border reopening strategy and science-based approach to safe travel measures can help speed Asia-Pacific towards air travel recovery, identifies Subhas Menon, director general of the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines

Asia-Pacific governments have been loosening their steel grip on international borders since 2H2021, but at your November AAPA Assembly of Presidents meeting, you noted that international passenger volumes across the region remain deeply depressed, at just six per cent of pre-pandemic levels compared to an average of 40 per cent in other regions. What is causing this recovery crawl?
There is modest pick-up in demand in November 2021, coinciding with the easing of restrictions in several Asia-Pacific markets. (Singapore’s) Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTLs) and travel corridors are (resulting in) a surge in bookings as soon as they are launched, which is indicative of the pent-up (travel) demand.

Such travel lanes and corridors are still too few and far between but should provide the momentum for recovery in 2022 if expanded as planned. Big markets like China and India also need to open up for recovery to commence in earnest.

Is the fear of travel – stemming from a fear of infection and death so widespread throughout this pandemic – among consumers a factor too?
The main factor is travel restrictions, especially quarantine. Quarantine, as well as the plethora of regulations with each government keeping its own counsel, dampen consumer sentiment and travel confidence as potential travellers are confused and (doubtful).

The Omicron variant is making plenty of headlines, and causing border restrictions to be tightened once more and disrupting travel rebound. What should governments learn from this as they attempt to live with Covid?
The knee-jerk reaction is understandable as governments are wary of the new variant of which very little is known. As long as the re-imposition of restrictions is temporary and short-lived to buy time or fine-tune risk-based measures, there should not be too much delay to recovery.

The reality is that governments will have to base their decisions on evidence and science, which require data to be gathered and evaluated.

Hopefully, Omicron is only a fly in the ointment and not a spanner in the works. It is heartening to see several governments in the region sticking to their recovery roadmap and reintroducing only some restrictions to address the immediate risks that have been identified.

In AAPA’s opinion, what ingredients are critical for a more stable travel and tourism recovery, and what can AAPA and its Assembly of Presidents do to move regional governments down the right track?
Living with the virus means we have to take its evolution in our stride. Governments that have adopted a Covid-normal strategy and are adopting risk-based policies and practices are laying the path to recovery.

The association is calling on governments to collaborate across borders, work with the industry in applying risk-based measures and restore international quarantine-free travel progressively.

Sticking or reverting to hard borders and onerous quarantine rules would not only harm travel and tourism but also the economy and livelihoods of the people. Travel corridors and VTLs once started should be sustained so as not to undermine the demand for cross-border travel.

Generally speaking, governments should redouble efforts to spread the access to vaccines as prolonged vaccine inequity will only delay the timeline to recovery.

Besides travel recovery, AAPA has another important commitment for 2022, and that is to cut carbon emissions to net zero by 2050. Will you tell us more about this goal and how aligned Asia-Pacific airlines and authorities are with this mission?
AAPA airlines committed to the net zero emissions goal by 2050 on September 13, 2021. The focus for the industry at the moment is on ICAO CORSIA (Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme in International Aviation), which is a market-based measure already available for international airline operators to reduce their carbon emissions.

The longer term focus is SAF (Sustainable Aviation Fuels), for which the airlines will collaborate with other stakeholders, namely governments, fuel suppliers, airports as well as manufacturers of aircraft and engines.

Government support to uphold CORSIA as well as to invest and incentivise SAF production will be crucial as contribution for emissions reduction from SAF use is expected to be up to 75 per cent. Generally speaking, taxes and charges increase cost without benefit to the environment, while support and incentives help the efforts to reduce emissions.

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