Prior to the pandemic, aviation contributed $63 billion to the GDP of African economies and supported 7.7 million jobs. The pandemic has negatively impacted over half of these important economic contributors, specifically $32 billion loss to GDP and put 5 million jobs at risk.
When the COVID crisis hit, there were many uncertainties about the virus and its impact on aviation. As an industry, we focused on maintaining the survival of airlines and the industry as a whole. While many uncertainties still exist, I believe as an industry we now have a clear, effective and calculated strategy for a safe restart.
This strategy or what we can call the building blocks for restart are categorized into four components: financial relief, harmonization and reduction of border protocols including cost of PCR tests, digitalization of traveler health credentials, and lifting travel restrictions and opening borders.
With travel demand down by 76% globally and 70% for Africa, it is imperative to continue to support the industry financially. Although a few African States supported their national airlines with almost $2.6 billion to date, 68% of the relief is in the form of loans which further burdens airlines with additional debt.
We must urgently activate the pledges of over $30 billion dollars made by the African Union as well as African and International Development institutions to support airlines and the wider industry.
Harmonization and reduction of border protocols including cost of PCR tests
Secondly, safe reopening of borders in a harmonized manner is critical for the restart of aviation in Africa. Different protocols across the continent create traveler confusion and continues to keep passenger traffic depressed. In addition, the cost and type of tests remain a restrictive factor across Africa, with PCR tests being the standard tests required by States and costing between $30-$150 per test across countries in Africa.
The costs associated with the PCR test places African aviation at a significant disadvantage. An increase of 10% of travel cost can reduce the demand at continental level by 15%. The key is harmonization of travel entry and exit requirements across the continent including the cost and validity period of the PCR test.
Moreover, governments must consider, as an alternative testing protocol, the rapid diagnostic antigen test (RDT) in situations where PCR testing is not readily available or where result turnaround time is too long.
Digital Certificates / IATA Travel Pass
Thirdly, we must embrace the use of digital technology as a way to facilitate and verify passenger health credentials, as more and more governments require verified testing and potentially vaccination proof, as a condition of international travel.
We are working with the AU and African CDC to synergise the digital platforms for traveler health credentials and border requirements – the AU Trusted Traveler Platform and the IATA Travel Pass.
The IATA Travel Pass is a digital solution; an application that enables travellers to check country requirements for entry, to store and manage their verified certifications for COVID-19 tests and/or vaccination, and to share their information directly with governments and airlines. Digital health credentials are more secure and efficient than the current paper processes used to manage health requirements.
To support these digital platforms, we call on African governments: to continue to provide timely and accurate updates of their health protocols or requirements; to provide digital COVID-19 test and vaccination certificates for citizens who get tested; to accept digital test and vaccination certificates wherever possible as verifiable health credentials and as a trusted platform for traveler information.
Lifting Travel Restrictions / Opening Borders
Lastly, we need open borders for a successful restart. We commend 50 African governments for already opening their borders to international travel on the basis of pre-departure testing, which is well ahead of other regions of the world. However, travel restrictions imposed globally from one country on to the other, many based on inaccurate information, remains a significant challenge to the aviation industry.
We must continue to work with African governments and other regions, like the European Union for example, to ensure governments open their borders to restart the industry.
SAATM and the African Continental Free Trade Area
Finally, we must not forget connectivity in Africa and the importance of the Single African Air Transport Market – SAATM and the African Continental Free Trade Area. We are pleased to be continuing our work with AFCAC and other stakeholders to progress the implementation of SAATM.
The devastating impact of COVID has been felt by all of us – we must continue our collaboration and cooperation for a safe return of aviation. Our global approach is to work hand in hand with governments, by jointly developing roadmaps seeking to systematically remove restrictions on international air travel.
This will take into account factors such as vaccination rollout and the health situation, giving governments the confidence and the assurance that they are working with targets that they can achieve in support of safe and sustainable industry restart, and so they can once again reap the social and economic benefits of aviation.