Reviving the Airline Sector

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Synopsis: The government and industry should collaborate to develop a sustainable restart strategy.  Governments need to come up with consistent policies based on evidence. While the industry should do whatever it can to reinstate passenger confidence and embrace new ways of making revenue. 

Background:
    • Airlines have been battling uncertainty since March 2020. In April 2020, two-thirds of the global fleet of aircraft was grounded, but essential operations were not halted. 
    • By raising private capital, receiving government support, cutting costs to the bone, etc., many airlines have managed to prevent bankruptcy.
Challenges in Reviving the sector:
    • It is not easy for governments to reopen their borders, allow traffic, and still keep the virus away.
    • There exists a high degree of uncertainty regarding the number of years required for returning demand to pre-COVID-19 levels.
    • Further, it would take considerable time to vaccinate all the eligible people across the globe which may impede the revival.
    • Internationally, there is concern that governments may not cooperate or establish shared principles for opening their borders. 
      • Further different vaccinations are administered in different countries which would impede the adoption of standard procedures. For example, the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines are only accessible in 72 and 74 countries, respectively.
Measures to revive the sector:
    • The government and industry should collaborate to develop a sustainable ‘restart strategy’.  Such a strategy should use a science-based approach and specify:
      • dealing with vaccinated and unvaccinated passengers, 
      • quarantine and testing measures 
      • electronic capture of health data to facilitate international travel
    • For India, the large domestic aviation market is a saviour. The government should do an active collaboration with states for reviving the domestic demand.
      • Local actions need to be taken whenever risks are identified, and a consistent policy should be followed. 
      • In recent times, micro-containment zones have been helpful over blanket lockdowns in containing infections.
    • Tools should be developed to continually monitor the risk profiles of different regions.
    • It is time to focus on substituting blanket restrictions with testing, vaccination, and limited quarantine measures.
      • Vaccination can be a requirement to travel but should co-exist with testing regimes.
      • Implementing widespread COVID-19 antigen testing before departure is key for restarting air travel. 
    • Digital travel passes and vaccine passports may be another solution. But in order to work, these will require standardization across borders and mutual recognition of vaccines that allow global travel.
    • A network plan needs to be rethought and reworked. As there may be the possibility of different segments in different parts of the network opening and closing depending on the uncertainty of the pandemic and the demand.

The next few years will be challenging for the aviation industry. The actions taken by governments and industry will determine how long it takes for the industry to recover.

Source: The Hindu

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