AAPA Calls For Consistency In Global Vaccination Effort

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The eventual recovery in international air travel is at risk of being slowed if vaccination rates are allowed to lag behind in some countries, according to the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA).

Widespread immunity is key to restoring international markets, and “no one is safe until everyone is safe,” AAPA director general Subhas Menon said during a Feb. 9 media briefing. However, differing national vaccination rates threaten to make this “a tale of two haves—the and have nots,” he said.

Menon noted that many developed countries plan to have their vaccination programs completed by the end of 2021. But some developing or emerging countries could take much longer and “will be on a long, slow road to achieve the same result.”

Several Asia-Pacific countries that are heavily reliant on international travel and tourism are in the latter category, Menon said. They include India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka.

The recovery in air travel “cannot just hinge on the recovery of the developed world,” Menon said. “Nor can air travel just proceed amongst [developed] countries.”

Some bodies such as the World Health Organization recognize this and are pressing for an equitable approach to mass immunization. However, more in the international community need to focus on interconnectivity and globalization, Menon said.

AAPA is also pushing for the adoption of digital travel passes to store health documentation and allow “contactless” processing. Again, a harmonized approach to these passes is essential, the group said.

Menon said international travel was showing signs of recovery until November 2020, but the recent surge in COVID-19 cases and the emergence of new viral mutations stalled any progress. While governments were discussing travel corridors or travel bubbles late last year, these have been put on hold.

Travel bubbles will not be established until the governments involved have “a level of comfort” that the surge is under control, Menon pointed out. Widespread vaccinations will help put these bubbles back on the agenda.

Hong Kong and Singapore had planned to launch a travel corridor between them, but it was postponed because of rising case numbers. While this plan is “on the shelf” for now, Menon is confident it will be revisited. Hong Kong and Singapore have proven their ability to deal with the pandemic, and both are heavily reliant on travel and tourism, Menon said. “It is only a matter of time” before the mooted travel corridor is rescheduled.

There was strong passenger demand for Hong Kong-Singapore flights before the corridor concept was withdrawn, Menon said. This shows that there is a pent-up demand for both leisure and business travel once restrictions are removed. 

Adrian Schofield

Adrian is a senior air transport editor for Aviation Week, based in New Zealand. He covers commercial aviation in the Asia-Pacific region.