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IATA's Pierre Charbonneau talks:
During the past several months, the International Air Transport Association has been cooperating with travel industry and medical groups to develop a "restart" program that advises of the most effective measures of preventing Covid-19 spread as airlines restore and rebuild service. IATA director of passenger and facilitation Pierre Charbonneau last week spoke with BTN transportation editor Michael B. Baker about the roadmap and the need for cooperation with governments and regulators around the world to avoid a restart as "totally disorganized" as the shutdown.
BTN: What does the roadmap for restarting aviation entail?
Pierre Charbonneau: Our focus at IATA has been on a number of topics, but I mostly have been involved in working with the medical advisors, the World Health Organization, our medical advisory group, [the International Civil Aviation Organization] and other partners to put back a passenger process that will restore confidence in passengers flying and give governments some reassurance to relax the border restrictions. Everything was done with the view in mind to mitigate the further transmission of the Covid-19 virus. We produced guidance and looked at every touchpoint of the passenger journey. We drafted a series of measures that really look at, first, having the customers be fit to fly before they leave home. If they're symptomatic, they should not be traveling, so there's a lot of communication being done around that. Then, if you are able to do your check-in at home instead of at the airport, and in some countries, airlines will let you print your bag time at home. Then, once you get to the airport, what measures can we do to make sure you mitigate the risk of transmission? It's not unlike what you see in your daily life now, with social distancing and increased sanitization of all the airport equipment, contactless technology and wearing your mask. We've built that guidance on those layers of measures, because there's not a silver bullet. There's not a vaccine yet or one medical measure that will cover it all. We've included temperature screening in the process and a new way of boarding, and a way of reducing carry-on baggage for faster deplaning. [We're] working with countries to make sure the arrival process is slick and [maximizes] the electronic forms for border control, for instance. At the time that we drafted the guidance, we're still keeping a very close eye on the evolution of the testing process, and we have made a position the testing is another element that can be added to the travel journey once it meets the proper criteria to be effective. That means for it to be fast, scalable, efficient and cost-free for customers, and convenient and done prior to departure.
BTN: What's the plan to implement the guidance?
Charbonneau: The guidance was very incremental, as we work with ICAO and a group called [Council Aviation Recovery Task Force], who took this guidance and re-organized it so it's shared with all the countries around the world that are members of ICAO. Now, we're working with those regions to look at the documentation and ask the governments to consider it and see if they're comfortable with that. We're in the implementation, deployment and monitoring stage of putting this guidance around the globe. The real challenge now is that some states will be going faster than others, only because the virus is now disappearing a bit more in some places and in others is very active. If you look at countries like Australia and New Zealand, they have things that work between them but are still closed to the rest of the world. One of the challenges we have now is to try to get an understanding and try to influence so that there's a centered assessment being made, so it's predictable to the triggers [that] allow a reopening and is not totally disorganized as it was in the shutdown.
BTN: IATA has discouraged countries from quarantining visitors. What is the reasoning for that?
Charbonneau: Quarantine for us is pretty much the equivalent of not reopening your borders. If the world needs to get the economy back on track, a quarantine discourages anyone from traveling. You can't plan your trip with a quarantine to get around. We should really focus on, first of all, making sure that the layers of measures we have are well-executed, so customers have their own responsibility to comply with them.
BTN: What is the plan later in the roadmap when the situation begins to improve?
Charbonneau: We don't want the layered measures to stay forever as part of the travel experience. Anyone who is traveling now will tell you it's the weirdest experience they've probably ever had in an airport. What we're looking at now is, as the borders reopen, we want to focus on when will be the right time to remove some of those measures that are no longer necessary. The ones that will probably make a better industry should be accelerated: the contactless technology, the use of biometrics, the passenger data improvements. [Those] make a better industry and don't cause any issues from a customer standpoint.
BTN: What about airlines that are taking more strict measures in order to regain passenger confidence?
Charbonneau: These are guidelines, the minimum of what should get done, based on medical science. Some airlines have gone beyond that and have started their own campaign promoting over and above sanitization or leaving an empty seat, because at this time in people's psyche, seeing the full cabin makes them nervous. If the airlines do it, it's their decision, but it shouldn't contradict the message. Let's make sure that down the road it doesn't become something you're stuck with. If one day travel picks up and load factors are 85 or 90 percent, and you don't want to leave the space onboard, what's the argument then? Just be careful with the communication of the extra measures, that it's for restoring confidence.
BTN: Is part of this simply educating the public on the probability of transmission aboard an aircraft?
Charbonneau: Once you understand the mechanism of the airflow onboard the cabin, the use of filters, the fact that people face the same direction and other measures that are now added, it's an interesting story to tell. The real challenge is will customers accept it and believe it? It's up to us as an industry.
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