While the conversation over the past two years has been on the challenges that the pandemic has placed on the aviation sector, the easing of COVID-19 restrictions and the impact that this will have on people’s willingness to resume international travel, might result in a new conversation, the sector’s ambition to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
This is the view of Shannon Chamber CEO Helen Downes, speaking after the chamber’s first event of the year, a presentation by the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) country manager for the United Kingdom & Ireland, Simon McNamara.
“In outlining the challenges facing aviation, Mr McNamara focused on how the sector’s net zero target can be achieved, which could include Ireland seeking to position itself as a centre of excellence in the development of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), in the same way as it has gained an enviable reputation as a centre for aircraft leasing. Progressing this conversation will be high on our agenda over the next year,” said Ms Downes.
With global air traffic currently at forty per cent of pre-pandemic levels and the sector impacted more by COVID-19 than by the 2003 SARS pandemic, the 1991 global recession or the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Mr McNamara said the aviation sector is only half the size it was in 2019 and that the varying approaches to border restrictions have hampered recovery. While the willingness to travel is strong, as evidenced in the latter part of 2021, McNamara said that the 100,000 plus individual travel measures in place globally have limited international travel recovery.
Adding a note of hope he said that domestic travel will recover faster than international, intra-Europe and Europe to North America travel will outpace Asia, and that promoting global vaccine equity, acceptance of all World Health Organisation (WHO) Emergency Use Listing (EUL) vaccines and applying a consistent set of exemptions would greatly facilitate international travel for vaccinated passengers.
“Testing should be used to allow travel of non-vaccinated passengers and testing protocols should be simple, convenient and affordable,” he said.
“Complexity and confusion threaten recovery. With at least ten ways of defining the testing window prior to travel, six definitions for when a vaccine becomes effective, twenty-four versions of country-risk assessments list and only half of states allowing exceptions for vaccinated travelers recognising the WHO Emergency Use List of vaccines, it is no wonder that aviation has been so adversely impacted.
“A simpler, more predictable approach to risk is key to recovery. Governments should publish risk frameworks to improve predictability, allow vaccinated passengers to travel without additional measures, use pre-departure antigen tests for non-vaccinated passengers, review measures regularly and apply sunset clauses and enhance preparedness for future health events,” he said.
Chamber CEO Helen Downes was encouraged by Mr Mc Namara’s endorsement of the Chamber’s view that airlines will need to be supported to restore the level of connectivity required for economic development and balanced regional sustainability.
“As stated during the webinar, airlines are commercial enterprises and will only restore routes that are commercially viable for them. That’s where Government must step in to restore routes that are critical for Ireland. Our view, as presented to Government, in conjunction with the collective Chambers in the Mid-West and the Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) is that this support will need to be multi-annual until are least 2024 or potentially to 2029, linked to any continuing impact of the pandemic.
“We are hopeful that the lifting of restrictions will see a speedier recovery to normal than previously anticipated,” she added.
Running an aviation business with over 430 employees, soon to grow to over 700 following the acquisition of Lufthansa Technik Shannon, Atlantic Aviation Group’s chief executive Shane O’Neill, and webinar sponsor, endorsed the fact that the past two years have posed a massive challenge for the maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) sector. He too is looking forward to a more positive horizon and paid tribute to the resilience, not just of his team, but of the entire industry.
“AAG is looking forward to successfully rebuilding the services we have lost over the past two years. We have ambitious plans to grow the business. No doubt it will be different, but we are extremely optimistic for the future of aviation and for Shannon,” he said.