The aviation industry wants governments to move from a zero risk approach to managing the risks of Covid-19 to enable travel to reopen.
In one of his first interviews as IATA's director general, Willie Walsh, says airline CEOs are in the business of managing risk and that the industry needs to see the “same level of risk management approach being adopted by governments".
The former CEO of BA-parent International Airlines Group adds that a global pandemic would have been on every airline risk register and something the industry was ready to respond to, but that a zero risk approach is not practical.
“We have to make sure sensible measures are in place. Nobody wants people to be reckless, so we need sensible measures in place where proper risk assessment is done and then actions taken to mitigate the known and unknown risks so people can carry on as they have been used to in the past. There is a case for caution but to attempt to completely eliminate that risk, we just do not believe is possible.”
Walsh, who was speaking at the World Aviation Festival online event last week, also talked about the need to improve testing to ensure processes are cost effective for airlines and passengers.
In a separate session, Johan Lundgren, CEO of easyJet, said it could cost a family up to £600 (US$837) for testing and that the cost needs to come down.
The carrier's research shows passengers feel £30 is a more reasonable amount.
EasyJet's research also questions whether restrictions and tests are needed for travel to countries in the green tier.
Walsh describes the current situation as “unacceptable on a number of fronts".
“We’re clearly seeing evidence of profiteering by people who have jumped on the testing bandwagon. Governments are mandating testing and need to do this to protect health systems and then charging VAT on top. We have got to challenge this. Once you start to challenge this you start seeing evidence of the situation improving.”
He adds that passengers flying into the UK have to buy a package of tests in advance for testing on day two and day eight when they are not staying till day eight.
“This is nonsense, it’s a scam, let’s call it what it is. Nobody will object to having systems in place to protect health but everybody should object when we see evidence of people being ripped off. The cost of testing should be significantly lower than it is and we have got to challenge whether PCR testing is necessary.
"There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that rapid antigen testing is just as efficient and safe. We cannot have a situation where only the wealthy are in a position to travel, that would be a shame and a disgrace.”
Meanwhile, trials of the IATA Travel Pass are ongoing with Walsh reiterating concerns that airports will not be able to function without a digital solution.
The conversation also touched on the environmental impact from flying.
With Earth Day last week and the UK government's plan to accelerate its carbon reduction targets including its share of international aviation for the first time, Walsh says aviation has always “stood up to the challenge” and then even with the pandemic, CEOs had continued to focus on the environment citing both United and IAG recent announcements.
“There are lots of initiatives out there and critically people recognise it has to be done, no arguments there. The industry is up for this challenge.”
Questioned on how the industry would look post pandemic, Walsh says it will be look “smaller, more cautious, equally competitive but more importantly as focused on environmental issues as it was.”