International cooperation is vital when it comes to the recovery of the airline industry, experts unanimously agreed during the recently concluded eighth Arab Aviation Summit (AAS), the region’s leading aviation and tourism industry event.
“There is a massive disconnect between the private and public sectors, making recovery slower,” Kamil Al Awadhi, Regional Vice-President for Africa and the Middle East, IATA, said in the “Pan-Arab Aviation between growth and change. The New Normal” session moderated by Eithne Treanor.
“The GCC region is vast and in the Arab world, air travel is necessary,” said Abdul Wahab Teffaha, Secretary General Arab Air Carriers Organization (AACO). “The Arab world’s way of getting together is through air travel –there is nothing else to it. Families are scattered across regions – in Levant, the Gulf, North Africa; people travel for jobs; our region is the birthplace of key religions in the world, making the need for air travel in the region essential.
“The contribution of travel and tourism to the Middle East economy is therefore twice that of the world and so we suffered twice as much,” said Teffaha.
“If government policies are based on scientific, risk-assessed measures, we will recover to 2019 levels by 2024. If governments operate with fear, this will delay us further” – Abdul Wahab Teffaha
Al Awadhi says: “We still need the start and end airports to agree on everything. If these airports are between two countries, it becomes even more complicated as different countries have different requirements.
“It is high on our agenda this summit to get the states in this region together on the same table and Iron out everything, so that business can get better faster,” said the recently appointed regional IATA chief.
A historical lesson learnt from the pandemic: globalisation is the right way forward, agrees Teffaha. “From the Covid-19 context, there are so many obstacles but countries are making it worse: nations that are able to produce vaccines do not want to share it with others. Some countries won’t recognise vaccines produced by other countries.
“Covid-19 did not prevent people from travel, it is the governments that stopped people from travelling. If government policies are based on scientific, risk-assessed measures, instead of double PCRs, imposing quarantines and closing borders, we will recover to 2019 levels by 2024. If governments operate with fear this will delay further,” said Teffaha.
A standard set of protocols worldwide instead of every country having its own rules and regulations; minimising of hurdles such as double PCR tests, quarantines and the resultant complications/paperwork; and border closures are slowing down an already slow recovery. Aviation experts urged governments to take calculated risks instead of shutting down borders and bringing aviation to a halt.
Among other speakers during the event, Adel Al Ali, Group Chief Executive Officer, Air Arabia, predicted a positive outcome in the months to come and highlighted the need for industry and regulators to work together on contingency plans to address the current challenges and develop recovery plans for the entire aviation industry.
Egypt Air’s Chairman & CEO, Rushdi Zakaria’s said that the summit fostered a platform for discussion on the current situation of the aviation sector and reiterated that health and safety remain the number one priority.
“It is high on our agenda this summit to get the states in this region together on the same table and iron out everything, so that business can get better faster”
– Kamil Al Awadhi
Mikail Houari, President Airbus, Africa Middle East, shared insights on how the airline sector has always remained resilient and has found ways to recover even stronger particularly in the Middle East region.
Sunil John, President – Middle East of BCW and Founder of ASDA’A BCW, said the aviation sector’s current challenges can’t be addressed by airlines, airports, or tour operators alone but “global organisations such as IATA that must bring a commonality of approach and an industry-wide response regarding the safety and vaccine protocols to benefit the sector.”
Linus Benjamin Bauer, Founder & Managing Director of Bauer Aviation Consultancy, said the decline in business travel was a key challenge, while adding that the opportunities in the Middle East were tremendous, leading to increased appetite for aviation services.
Peter Morris, Chief Economist at Flight Ascend Consultancy, said the success of the industry calls for commercial solutions. “Only business models that meet the needs of customers will be successful. You cannot force people to travel and there are different sets of parameters for business and leisure.”
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