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The head of global airline industry body IATA blamed overly risk-averse governments for prolonging the COVID-19 crisis for the travel sector but expects the outlook to brighten in the second half of the year.
IATA Director General Willie Walsh, the former boss of British Airways owner IAG, expects positive data on vaccine effectiveness to convince governments to start rolling back restrictions.
“There is some good evidence there to be optimistic that, going into the second half of this year, we will see a better environment that will allow more people to travel,” he said on Friday.
Most international air travel remains depressed almost 18 months into the pandemic because of continuing restrictions.
Walsh, who took the top job at IATA in April, said governments were being too risk-averse and needed to change rules to reflect data showing that vaccinated travel or travel with testing poses little risk to a country’s infection rate.
“The crisis in the airline industry, which was initially caused by a health pandemic, is now really a crisis caused by restrictions being imposed by government,” Walsh said.
He singled out Britain in particular, citing rules that require people entering the UK from nearly all countries to take at least two coronavirus tests and enter quarantine. Walsh also hit out at what he said was “incredible farcical confusion” created by mixed political messages on travel.
Many countries on Britain’s “amber list” for medium-risk travel have very, very low transmission rates, said Walsh.
“If I was vaccinated, I wouldn’t hesitate to fly to these countries,” he said of places such as the United States, Spain, France and Italy, which were top destinations for Britons before the pandemic.
Britain said its cautious approach to the return of international travel was designed to prioritise public health.
“Country classification ... is guided by the evidence and analysis of a range of key factors, including rates of infection, the prevalence of variants of concern, and the country’s access to reliable scientific data and genomic sequencing,” a Department for Transport spokesman said.
Britain and the United States both have high vaccination levels, which Walsh said gave him confidence that a travel corridor could be opened between the countries in June.
“I think there’s a good reason to be optimistic that we should be able to see the UK and US open transatlantic flying again,” he said. The increasingly effective green backlash against oil majors by activists and shareholders is a welcome development for the aviation industry as it prepares to raise its own environmental goals, the head of global airline body IATA said on Friday.
Willie Walsh, director general of the International Air Transport Association, said that challenges of the kind encountered by Exxon, Chevron and Shell this week could boost investment in the lower-emission fuels so desperately needed by airlines.
“I think it’s great that the oil industry has been criticised. Anything that accelerates the production of sustainable fuels is a positive,” Walsh told Reuters.
Oil majors suffered a trio of defeats on Wednesday as 61% of Chevron shareholders demanded end-use emissions cuts and Exxon Mobil had a pair of activist candidates elected to its board to push climate demands. A Dutch court also ordered drastic emissions cuts by Royal Dutch Shell.
The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the focus and pressure on climate emissions, said Walsh, the former boss of British Airways and its owner IAG.
Global airlines that have so far pledged to halve net emissions by 2050 will be asked to go further at IATA’s annual meeting in October, Walsh said, confirming indications given by his departing predecessor, Alexandre de Juniac.
Walsh said the previous 2009 goal had been overtaken by the Paris Agreement and resulting pledges from governments and companies - including many airlines - to eliminate net emissions by mid-century.
“Anything less than net-zero by 2050 will be disappointing for the industry and will leave us open to criticism that we’re not doing enough,” he said while acknowledging that some states including China still consider the target too ambitious.
Raising the aviation goal will require investment burden-sharing by energy companies and aerospace manufacturers, as well as removal of fuel-wasting air traffic control inefficiencies that are particularly acute in Europe, Walsh said.
Global air passenger traffic plunged by an unprecedented 66 per cent in 2020 owing to travel restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic, an industry group said.
Donegal Airport in Ireland took the top spot for the third year in a row, in a list which also finds mention of Dubai International Airport.
A poll of nearly 2,600 pilots by UK-based GOOSE Recruitment and industry publication FlightGlobal, released on Thursday, found only 43% were doing the job they had trained for, with 30% unemployed, 17% furloughed and 10% in non-flying roles.
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