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Tuesday, February 7, 2023

ICAO, IATA push for reopening of international travel following COVID-19 meeting

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Last week, ministers, deputy ministers, and heads of 24 international organizations completed a comprehensive review of pandemic-driven priorities for global air transport, formalizing new commitments on border risk management and vaccination approaches, improving air transport for sustainability and future pandemic resilience, and other key priorities aimed at speeding up air tourism and trade recovery and reconnecting the world.

The agreements were codified in a new declaration accepted as a crucial conclusion of the ICAO’s High-Level Conference on COVID-19, which wrapped up today after nine days of intense virtual multilateralism.

The new ministerial declaration acknowledges the gravity of the COVID-19 civil aviation crisis, as well as its spillover effects on global supply networks and the various national economies that rely heavily on international flights for tourism and trade.

It also acknowledged the crucial role that air transport and the ICAO Council’s Aviation Recovery Task Force (CART) are now playing in getting critical supplies and personnel to where they are needed most around the world.

The participants agreed to a multilayer risk management plan for international civil aviation that is adaptive, proportionate, non-discriminatory, and based on scientific knowledge.

To boost public trust in air travel around the world, the governments stressed that while vaccination should not be a requirement for travel, it is extremely desired that it be used to allow expanded international mobility.

Countries committed to collaborating with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and other stakeholders to ensure the interoperability and accessibility of secure applications for validating pandemic-related testing, vaccination, and recovery certification.

They also committed to promoting a harmonized and inclusive approach to the greatest extent possible, including easing or eliminating testing and/or quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated or recovered passengers, while taking into account the unique circumstances of individual States and their national policies. This is in accordance with current World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines.

IATA urged states to use the promises made at the ICAO High-Level Conference on COVID-19 (HLCC) to make genuine progress toward restoring global air connectivity.

States attending the ICAO HLCC pledged their support for 14 measures that, if implemented, would allow airlines to meet consumer demand for a resurgence of air travel around the world. Two promises, in particular, require the most immediate action from governments. These are the following:

‘We commit to taking effective measures to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 and other communicable diseases by international air travel, in particular through the implementation of the ICAO CART guidelines, and encourages the harmonization of Member States’ multilayer risk management strategies to safely restore international connectivity and support the revival of the global economy as a critical step towards achieving our goal to enhance the social, environmental and economic sustainability of aviation, ensuring the interoperability and mutual recognition of, and accessibility to, digital applications, secure transmission and validation of pandemic-related testing, vaccination and recovery certification that protects the privacy and personal data.’

‘We commit to promoting, to the greatest extent possible, a harmonized and inclusive approach to facilitate safe international air travel, including alleviating or exempting testing and/or quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated or recovered passengers, taking into account the different circumstances of individual States and their national policies, in keeping with WHO’s policy and technical considerations for implementing a risk-based approach to international travel in the context of COVID-191, and providing exceptions for non-vaccinated passengers.

This will enable us to work towards strengthening the confidence of the traveling public and safely rebuilding international civil aviation.’

“Government-imposed restrictions continue to stop a revival of international travel. It remains 70 percent down on pre-crisis levels. The ICAO HLCC commitments show that governments understand what is needed to re-start global connectivity.

The task now is implementation. Some governments have already started. The imminent opening of the US market to vaccinated travelers will be a big step forward. But we cannot let the output of this meeting remain as words on paper.

The airline industry, 88 million livelihoods, 3.5% of global GDP, and billions of travelers are counting on governments to deliver on the risk-managed reopening of international travel to which they have committed,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s director-general.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) recently issued recommendations to aid in the implementation of the HLCC declaration. The findings, dubbed CART 3 (the Council Aviation Recovery Task Force), draw on prior CART recommendations as well as the Take-off guidance and Cross-border Manuals.

The following are some of the key new or modified recommendations to ICAO member states:

  • Testing, recuperation, and vaccination certifications are implemented and recognized (including digital formats)
  • To facilitate international travel, authorities should adopt a unified multi-layer risk management system.
  • Entry of fully vaccinated and recovered passengers, with consideration of easing or exempting such people from testing and/or quarantine.

The WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization recommends that aviation crews be vaccinated as soon as feasible (SAGE)

“CART 3 is a road map for managing COVID-19 using a risk-based, data-driven approach. Its proposals serve as the foundation for governments to realize the HLCC declaration’s goals.

We have the knowledge, data, and expertise to safely support international travel without border restrictions after a year and a half of experience with COVID-19. All data and recommendations point to persons who have been vaccinated regaining their ability to travel.

“It’s also obvious that we have the potential to manage people who do not have access to immunization through testing,” Walsh added.

With the IATA Travel Pass, the industry is well on its way to efficiently managing travel health credentials. It’s a response to the HLCC’s understanding that a system to digitally manage pandemic-related testing, vaccination, and recovery certification that respects the privacy and personal data will be required.

“Airlines cannot afford a restart that is compromised by paper-based processes for checking travel health credentials. Testing is complete and several airlines are already starting implementation of IATA Travel Pass across their networks.

It’s also a ready-made solution for governments to be prepared to efficiently manage their documentation processes as demand ramps up,” said Walsh.

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