Increases in air passenger volumes are not correlated to any level of statistical significance with changes in Covid-19 infection (positivity) rates in Europe, according to a new analysis released by ACI Europe.
The analysis, presented on Tuesday at the association’s virtual annual congress, covered the months of July, August and September when air traffic experienced a timid recovery on the back of state lifting travel restrictions.
As noted by ACI Europe President Jost Lammers, the analysis confirms and 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 further 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,” he said.
However, ACI Europe’s president stressed that the time-critical nature of progress was firmly in the spotlight.
“We are deeply frustrated by the lack of effective co-ordination and progress at EU level on all these issues,” Lammers said, adding that many industry professionals have already lost their jobs and more are 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,” he said.
Quarantine must be replaced with testing
Delivering his keynote address at the association’s virtual annual congress, Lammers acknowledged that emerging news of an effective vaccine gives reason for hope. He did note, however, that airports along with the rest of the aviation sector cannot simply “wait out” the inevitable time challenges of safety confirmation and herd immunity.
“We need another – immediate and interim solution to go through the winter and probably most of next summer,” Lammers said, underlining that the solution lies in replacing quarantines for air travellers with testing.
“This is about doing better managing and reducing transmission risks – and saving livelihoods,” he added.
ACI Europe’s president challenged the assumption that requiring air travelers 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,” he said.
Recovery framework for aviation
Moreover, Lammers called for a balanced approach to financial support for the aviation eco-system, highlighting ACI Europe’s proposals for a specific Recovery Framework for Aviation, sent to the European Commission recently.
The association’s 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; and connectivity support schemes to financially support the restoration of air services in a non- discriminatory way.
According to ACI Europe, 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.