London Heathrow and Dubai International are offering to become pilot-airports for pre-travel Covid-testing that if successful should convince decision-makers that this is the way to go. It should win back the confidence of the traveler.
Airport CEO’s discussed the current lack of alignment in Covid-testing on the first day of the World Aviation Festival. Because of the pandemic, this year’s edition is digital-only.
Recently, IATA too has criticized the lack of consistency among countries over Covid-testing. Some countries require a PCR-test before arrival, others upon arrival. It is this inconsistency that causes confusion with travelers and keeps them away from flying, as they can be confronted by last-minute changes in testing policies.
“The main concern of travelers is quarantine and that they are stranded somewhere for ten to fourteen days”, said Gloria Guevara Manzo, CEO of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC). Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths added: “The lack of coordination about protocols is really holding up passenger confidence.”
Maurici Lucena Betriu of Spain’s EANA airports said: “The decision of people to fly or not seems to depend on their global perspective of Covid, not on the situation in an individual country. For example, the impact of the pandemic has been bigger in Spain than in Italy but the drop in demand from travelers has been the same in both countries. It tells you travelers don’t look at the situation per country.”
Guevara Manzo urged governments to come up with a single policy and create an international protocol on testing. This was voiced by Heathrow’s CEO, John Holland-Kaye: “We need a common international standard.” He prefers pre-flight testing over post-flight Covid-tests: “It’s better to do testing pre-flying, so passengers arrive at the airport Covid-free. If there is a need for quarantine, you can do it at home instead of in a hotel.”
Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths said: “You can only get confidence back with people if they know other people have been tested and are not contagious, so they can sit comfortably to each other onboard an airplane. This removes the need for testing on arrival and to have to go into quarantine.”
Successful pilot could open up global aviation
Together with British Airways-parent International Airlines Group (IAG), London Heathrow is preparing a pre-flight testing pilot on the busy route between Heathrow and New York JFK. “If successful, this could be a template for other Heathrow routes. It could start global aviation moving again. If we can get the European Union, UK, and the US behind this, we could have others behind it as well”, Holland-Kaye said.
The idea of a pilot-project was quickly embraced by Dubai’s Griffiths: “We have been in contact with Heathrow about aligning protocols. I hope Dubai and London can reach an agreement and become beacons of how things should be done.”
The panelists had different views on where and how pre-flight testing should be done. Amsterdam Schiphol’s Dick Benschop thinks airports could be testing-grounds for Covid-technology tests as new and quicker tests are being developed. Spain’s Lucena Betriu believes in biometric technology, which has been successfully implemented at airports like Madrid and is used by Iberia and Air Europa: “It is fast, agile, and very safe from a data protection perspective. Most of us will have biometric processes in place very soon.”
The ideal and quickest solution to Paul Griffiths would be if test data from medical records could be added to a passenger’s single digital ID or passport, which doesn’t look like science fiction but could be easily done. “Then we wouldn’t need PCR-tests at airports anymore.”
The WTTC has called on the G7 and G10-countries to quickly agree on a single testing protocol. “If we can get the EU to align in this, the rest of the world will follow”, said Gloria Guevara Manzo. The topic will be discussed within the EU on September 28, so the next weeks will be crucial. “I don’t believe we can continue with a second lockdown. That’s why coordination is crucial.”