Asia-Pacific airlines are urging governments to reopen borders again after international passenger levels remain “deeply depressed”.
The Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) hosted its 65th annual Assembly of Presidents event last week, and airline leaders have said prolonged border closures are resulting in “unprecedented damage” to travel and tourism.
According to AAPA, the Asia-Pacific international passenger volumes remain at only 6 per cent of pre-pandemic levels compared to an average of 40 per cent in other regions.
“Many communities in the region are dependent on aviation as an essential means of transportation and source of livelihood,” said AAPA director general Subhas Menon.
He said AAPA “applauds the efforts” of governments in increasing vaccination rates across regions but says the Asia-Pacific still lags behind in reigniting travel again.
Europe, the United Kingdom and the United States have spearheaded the reopening of borders far earlier than the Asia-Pacific, as many industry leaders have said governments have remained overly cautious.
Early November saw numerous Asia-Pacific nations begin to open up, including Thailand allowing fully vaccinated travellers from over 60 countries to be welcomed again, and Australia reopening its borders for double-jabbed people.
Only a day ago, Cambodia also announced fully vaccinated travellers could enter the nation without quarantining.
But China still remains one of the most closed off nations in the world, still attempting to achieve a “zero-COVID” strategy through strict border closures and heavy quarantine requirements.
“It is hoped that quarantine requirements will be progressively lifted, with air travel made accessible to a wider segment of the population, such as those who have recovered from COVID infections,” Menon said.
The establishment of quarantine-free vaccinated travel lanes across many nations is “a positive first step”, AAPA says, but are calling for a “robust multilateral framework” that focuses on vaccinations, testing and other mitigating measures to restart travel.
The assembly also recommends governments to collaborate with industry stakeholders to “rebuild travel confidence” by digitising certain aspects of travel in a bid to reduce delays and congestion.
“Vaccination levels are still low in some countries due to shortages of supplies and resources,” said Menon.
The spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19 imposed major outbreaks in Asia-Pacific countries, which exposed their slow rollout of the vaccine, industry leaders say.
“Nevertheless, we should build on the resilience of aviation to gradually restore international air services as soon as possible,” Menon added.
The aviation sector accounts for US$994 billion to Asia-Pacific GDP and accounts for more than 50 per cent of the 88 million employed in the industry globally, AAPA says.
“Indeed, the social and economic impact of the pandemic is felt more deeply in Asia than elsewhere.”