The COVID-19 pandemic is first and foremost a human crisis with over 690,000 deaths and rising. However, there’s no denying that the global economy has also fallen victim to this virus. At the start of the crisis, countries around the world used a blunt tool to arrest the spread of the virus by shutting borders to limit the human impact. But as the crisis continues, it’s obvious that this approach is not sustainable. The cost of a crumbling global economy is just too heavy a burden to bear as a consequence of this relentless disease.
The IMF’s World Economic Outlook in June shows the extent of the pandemic’s impact on the world economy, which is set to shrink by 4.9% in 2020, in a “crisis like no other”. At the same time, the World Travel & Tourism Council estimates that the closure of borders has cost the tourism industry US$2,600 billion and job losses of up to 100 million.
SITA's data shows that by week 30 of 2020 (20-26 July), global air traffic was operating at 52% of its capacity for domestic flights and 24% of its international capacity, compared to the first week of this year. That's after an overall drop of 78% in April, the lowest recorded, with a very gradual recovery since.
Opening borders will bring global benefits
Never has it been more critical to open borders in a safe and controlled way, to spark global, regional and national economic recovery. Early into the pandemic, IATA’s Chief Economist Brian Pearce underlined the severity of the issue when he talked of modern businesses and the supply chains of advanced economies depending on air transport. On top of that, many emerging economies depend on inbound tourism, while spending and investment driven by the tourism industry can be critical around the world.
The World Bank believes air transport to be an important enabler to achieving economic growth and development, saying “Air transport facilitates integration into the global economy and provides vital connectivity on a national, regional, and international scale. It helps generate trade, promote tourism, and create employment opportunities.”
Stimulating air travel … practical guidelines
Given the severe economic consequences of closed, restricted or unresponsive borders, as COVID-19 persists governments must find ways of opening borders. There’s no shortage of action to try to tackle the practicalities of making travel safe, placing health as a top concern alongside security and operational safety – to restore passenger confidence and trust.
IATA’s ‘Layered approach for an industry restart’ looks at safety measures across the journey, foreseeing the need for governments to collect passenger data in advance of travel, including health information using channels such as those used for eVisa or Electronic Travel Authorization programs (where passengers apply for entry into a country). It recommends automated procedures for customs and border control, including the use of mobile apps and biometric technologies “which already have a proven track record by some governments.”
We hear the same advice from ACI World and ACI Europe in their papers on restart and recovery, along with their guidelines for a healthy passenger experience at airports. They urge governments and airports to keep passengers safe by reducing touchpoints, by using biometrics, home-printed bag tags, off-airport processing and more e-gates. They recommend simplified border control formalities by enabling contactless processes (for the reading of passport chips, and facial recognition) as well as the use of passenger flow management technologies.
“The need: safe, dynamic borders that respect private data” – World Economic Forum
These are brave and bold measures. However, if we want to further encourage air travel, we also need to be ready at the border. And that means modern, digital ways of managing borders. Modern digital border technology, integrated between airlines and government border agencies, is the only way to cope with the challenges of COVID-19, providing the ability to respond rapidly to changing events and to check a passenger’s border security status when they check-in, using Advance Passenger Processing (APP).
It’s also crucial for governments to approve travel and boarding based on current information regarding a passenger’s health status to implement travel bubbles and corridors, using the Visa or Electronic Travel Authorization process with health checks built-in. It means that governments can check digital declarations before trips, which minimizes hassle and queuing at airports, and ensures a level of safety and health at the border.
Governments with APP can pre-clear a passenger to fly in real-time, at the point of check in, or they can deny boarding of a passenger who is deemed high risk, or who may not have completed mandatory health declarations. With these steps completed successfully, there’s no need for excessive queuing. The border agency can handle low-risk passengers in a seamless, low-touch way using biometrics, whether using biometric-enabled e-gates or traditional checkpoints at the border.
Our global economy depends on it…
Looking forward, I believe that countries must adopt these new digital ways of working at the border to build passenger confidence and to contain the virus. There really shouldn’t be any reason not to. Our global economy depends on it.
Download SITA’s Runway for Future Operations to learn how to:
- Protect your investment by evolving existing solutions and infrastructure
- Increase agility by implementing cloud-based services on-demand
- Enhance operations for a healthy airport experience
Download the paper
ACI Europe ‘Guidelines for a Healthy Passenger Experience at Airports’
ACI World ‘Aviation Operations during COVID-19 – Business Restart and Recovery’