The head of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency has joined other industry stakeholders in blaming the patchwork of continually changing travel restrictions and quarantine rules imposed by national authorities across Europe for stemming the recovery of air travel. Speaking during a policy event organized by Airlines for Europe (A4E), EASA executive director Patrick Ky insisted that the uncertainty about Covid-19 testing and quarantine measures at the destination and back home were more detrimental to regaining passengers' trust in flying than fears of attracting the virus in airports or aboard an aircraft.
EASA analysis of 3 million passengers traveling in the last week of August, accounting for about 40 percent of European passenger numbers that week, revealed that only six per 100,000 passengers were not allowed to fly because they showed Covid-19 symptoms. Seven passengers of the three million, or 0.2 per 100,000 passengers, showed symptoms on board the aircraft and 300 passengers were reported for not adhering to the aviation health safety protocol developed by EASA and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) in May. “All this data shows that air transport does not generate new cases,” Ky stressed. In his view, flying is as safe if not safer from a Covid-19 health perspective than most other transport modes and safer than “most other common things people do such as grocery shopping.”
“We have proven people should not be afraid of flying,” he said, while joining calls from A4E, IATA, Eurocontrol, and airport association ACI Europe for European countries to adopt a common approach towards Covid-19 travel restrictions. “A common system will help tremendously” to revive intra-European traffic and to support discussions to reopen borders with global partner countries such as South-Korea, Japan, China, and Singapore, added Ky.
A4E is urging EU member states to support the recent recommendation of the European Commission and a parallel initiative of the German EU presidency to reinstall frictionless travel across the bloc, including common epidemiological assessment criteria and thresholds for member states when deciding whether to introduce travel restrictions. A European color-coded map would reflect ECDC data, rather than diverging national measures. States should use improved and mandatory Covid-19 testing, preferably prior to departure, and contact tracing instead of quarantines, said A4E chairman and Air France KLM CEO Ben Smith.
EU leaders and heads of state plan to discuss the need for a coordinated approach at a Council meeting on September 28. Transport ministers have made “good progress” on the file, said Walter Goetz, head of the cabinet of EC transport commissioner Adina Valean, though he cautioned that member states’ health and interior ministers have driven Covid-19 measures such as travel restrictions rather than transport ministers. “And for EU institutions it is very difficult to shape policies through video conferencing,” he added in an indication that a deal on a common EU-wide approach will not be a given.
Despite its limited remit, DG MOVE, the commission’s directorate-general for mobility, has backed several measures to support air transport, including the waiver of the so-called “80-20 use-it-or-lose it” slot allocation rule for the current summer season and the upcoming winter period until March 27, Goetz noted.
Besides tackling Covid-19, the commission will shortly define to what extent aviation will and can contribute to the European Green Deal, he said, asserting “we will not do this without taking into consideration the new economic situation.”