Personal and leisure travel will return from the second half of this year as borders reopen to tourists hungry to be free again and to reunite with families and friends, Alexandre de Juniac, director of the International Air Transport Association (Iata) said in an interview with The Straits Times from Singapore.
De Juniac admits recovery in business travel will be slower, and the actual volume of travel by the year end will still be low compared with the pre-Covid-19 period in 2019. But we will likely start seeing a change in the air travel landscape after May or June this year, he added.
We at IATA are already working with states to design and plan protocols and road maps for the reopening of borders.
Key among these protocols is IATA's Travel Pass, a mobile health verification app which electronically captures a traveler's vaccination history and Covid-19 test results for cross-border safety checks.
China has announced the roll out of its vaccine passport, while Germany and the United States are poised to introduce their own soon.
De Juniac, who retires from his five-year tenure next month and hands the reins to Willie Walsh of IAG (which owns British Airways), said IATA is targeting to work with 33 states and territories around the world on border reopening and international flights.
There is a huge pent-up demand for air travel, he added. You never appreciate what you had until you lose it. People are hungry to be free again, to travel again. He anticipates leisure and personal travel coming back more quickly than business travel.
In effect, personal travel will definitely bounce back, but business travel will take another 12 to 18 months to recover, he said, alluding to the fact that many companies have adopted digitalization technologies over the past year to connect and continue business.
But even with gradual border openings, de Juniac said air passenger traffic volume by the end of this year will remain relatively weak compared with pre-Covid-19 2019, though better than in mid-2020.
De Juniac also revealed to The Straits Times that the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) will accelerate protocols for safe air travel. We are working with our partners on vaccination, testing and safe air travel measures
ICAO, which last year rolled out various guidelines such as masks, health declarations and empty middle seats in planes, is expected to announce its latest protocols for health and safety guidelines within the next few weeks.