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Travel -European rules confusion is ‘wasting advantages of Digital Covid Certificate’

Kevan James

September 8, 2021.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has revealed that both international and domestic travel demand showed significant momentum in July 2021 compared to June 2021, but demand remained far below pre-pandemic levels as extensive government-imposed travel restrictions continue to delay recovery in international markets.

Total demand for air travel in July 2021 (measured in revenue passenger kilometres or RPKs) was down -53.1% compared to July 2019. This is a significant improvement from June 2021 when demand was -60% below June 2019 levels.

International passenger demand in July 2021 was -73.6% below July 2019, bettering the -80.9% decline recorded in June 2021 versus two years ago. All regions showed improvement and North American airlines posted the smallest decline in international RPKs. Total domestic demand was down -15.6% versus pre-crisis levels (Jul-2019), compared to the -22.1% decline recorded in Jun-2021 over Jun-2019. Russia posted the best result for another month, with RPKs up +28.9% versus Jul-2019.

“July results reflect people’s eagerness to travel during the Northern Hemisphere summer. People travelled where they could, and that was primarily in domestic markets. A recovery of international travel needs governments to restore the freedom to travel. At a minimum, vaccinated travellers should not face restrictions. That would go a long way to reconnecting the world and reviving the travel and tourism sectors,” says Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general.

The latest bookings show that the new pandemic wave has already started to take its toll on travel demand, though. In international markets, the recovery observed since May 2021 appears to have stalled in August 2021. More importantly, the bookings show that the passenger traffic on the previously outperforming domestic routes is falling. “This is not good news since it has been domestic markets that were driving the industry rebound during the crisis,” notes IATA.

European carriers saw their July 2021 international traffic decline -64.2% versus July 2019, significantly bettering the -77.0% decrease in June 2021 compared to the same month in 2019. Capacity dropped -53.8% and load factor fell 19.9 percentage points to 69.0%.

However, IATA has warned that free movement within Europe is being compromised by the “failure of EU member states to harmonise COVID-19 entry regulations”. As a result, the reopening of borders is “confusing travellers and businesses and not delivering the expected benefits in terms of easier travel and economic recovery,” it says.

IATA research has found significant differences in how EU member states are managing travel. Around a third of states (30%) using the EU Digital Covid Certificate (DCC) are not accepting rapid testing, one fifth (19%) are not exempting children from testing requirements, while two in five (41%) are not allowing vaccinated travellers from non-EU ‘White-List’ countries to enter. For the Passenger Locator Forms, 45% accept it online, while 33% accept paper and online submissions. But 11% only accept paper, and a further 11% have no locator forms at all.

“It’s essential that European states come together on COVID-19 travel procedures. The good work done by the Commission and the states to develop the DCC is being wasted by a mess of unharmonized regulations,” explains Rafael Schvartzman, IATA’s regional vice president for Europe.

“How can passengers travel with confidence when the rules are so different in each country within the European Union? They can’t be sure if their children need to be tested or not, or if they need to fill in a form on paper, online, or not at all. It’s one Europe Union. People reasonably expect a united approach to managing travel,” he added.

Specifically, with regard to harmonising requirements around the DCC, IATA and other stakeholders have urged EU states to conduct DCC verification digitally before passengers arrive at the airport, to limit operational disruptions and give certainty to passengers that they are ready to fly. Germany and Spain are two countries observing best practice in this area, it says.

IATA also calls for a state portal to facilitate DCC verification directly by national authorities and limit health data processing by airlines and the integration of digital Passenger Locator Forms into a state portal for DCC verification, which is not currently the case in 80% of European countries, it says.

In addition, EU states need to align on health requirements, said IATA, including universal acceptance of rapid testing in place of expensive and unnecessary PCR tests, universal exemption of minors from testing and vaccination requirements, and the universal opening of borders to vaccinated passengers and to allow travellers from low-risk countries to enter Europe without restriction (or with proof of a negative test from non-vaccinated travellers). IATA identifies the Netherlands, Estonia, Slovenia and Spain as leading the way in aligning these policies.

IATA has commended the European Commission for its leadership and speed in delivering the EU DCC and urged states to make it their global standard for digital vaccine certificates. “The DCC was delivered in record time to help facilitate the reopening of EU states to travel. In the absence of a single global standard for digital vaccine certificates, it should serve as a blueprint for other nations looking to implement digital vaccination certificates to help facilitate travel and its associated economic benefits,” says Conrad Clifford, IATA’s deputy director general.

The experience over the European summer, as travel has continued its recovery, shows that a standard digital travel certificate is not enough and the travel processes around COVID-19 clearly need to more be harmonised and smoothed out if we are to minimise the obstructions on the recovery path.


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