The Global Travel Taskforce has published its further findings into the safe return to international travel following the 14 recommendations previously made by the GTT. From the latest offering, it is clear to see why operators are frustrated and are looking at further delays to the resumption of their flying schedules.
The report of 9 April 2021 stresses that the earliest return to international travel will be from the 17th May. Whilst not wishing to be pessimistic, many consider this unlikely. Not only as a result of the uncertainty around vaccination programs around the world, but also due to the current variants and possible mutations of Covid19 moving forward. Given that there will be no further information until ‘early May’, there are also the practical implications to what is essentially restarting the industry.
On a positive note, the report does indicate that once international travel can restart, the demand is there. Whilst there are inevitable arguments that visiting family is not essential travel, long periods of enforced time away from family members across the world has impacted on so many families. There is of course a harsh reality to this in as much as if you move to a different country, it’s a risk you take. There will always be barriers to travel, however I doubt the possibility of a global pandemic such as this was a factor in anyone’s decision to move away or not. No one would have anticipated having to spend in excess of a year apart from their loved ones.
Over the last year or so there has been #bekind in relation to mental health, particularly the views presented by individuals on social media platforms. I would suggest that this be applied equally to the current situation in terms of views expressed on the return to international travel. Looking at articles that readers can comment on, the return to air travel has become a hugely emotive subject on several levels. Once our skies reopen, it is not for any of us to judge the reasons as to why someone might choose to travel, and there have certainly been very strong proponents of the “I’m not going to travel anywhere until it’s safe” position on social media platforms. Which is fine, but let’s not criticise those who do opt to fly. And if by ‘safe’ you mean when the pandemic is over, you could be waiting a very long time. It is worth bearing in mind that unless a way to travel is implemented soon, those waiting until it is ‘safe’ may find that the operators do not exist to transport them going forward. The airline industry needs support. Scientists suggest that this is a virus we must learn to live with, rather than expect to eradicate, a position endorsed by the latest GTT report. The best that we can all hope for, I would suggest for some considerable time, is a system that reduces the risk of catching and/or transmitting Covid19 to such an extent that the ‘risk’ is worth taking. This can be supported by testing, isolating (where necessary), and wearing face masks whilst travelling. Passengers should be urged not to take two hours to eat a tub of pringles (or other savoury snack) simply as a way of avoiding wearing a face mask. Slight discomfort as a result of wearing a mask for a prolonged period of time has to be better than the long terms risks associated with contracting Covid19.
The careers of many IPA members hang in the balance until such time as the sector can restart in any meaningful way. Clearly, it is in the interests of those whose careers depend on aviation for the UK to start flying again. Whilst acknowledging that a proportion of pilots have continued to operate during the pandemic, there are also many who have lost their jobs, or continue to be at risk of losing their jobs unless something changes very soon.
From the report of the GTT travel will not resume until there is certainty as to processes for a safe system of travel, for example, the ‘traffic light’ system of green, amber and red. It may well be that vaccine passports assist in the facilitation of travel, but as previously discussed, such a regime should not be in contemplation until every eligible adult in the UK has had the opportunity to be fully vaccinated.
We cannot stress enough the importance of aviation to the UK economy. Testing is one way to help get people travelling again, however it is right that the report identifies that the cost of testing (which for travel purposes will not be covered by the NHS) is a potential barrier to people travelling. Any system should ensure that anyone who wishes to undertake safe travel is not barred from doing so financially. Neither the desire to see loved ones nor the need to travel, should be a measure of wealth.
Of particular interest to pilots is paragraph 39 of the latest report, which states that the CAA will launch a pilot performance programme. This will support skills, awareness and resilience and will address issues that an extended period away from the cockpit may create. We will monitor the rollout with interest and would be interested to receive pilots’ views on this in due course.
It is slightly disconcerting that the Tourism Recovery Plan will not be published until May when the government will publish plans to safely welcome visitors back to the UK ‘as soon as it is safe to do so’. Whilst no one would wish to open the UK prematurely, the report does seem to suggest that the summer season may be lost. This will impact further on aviation and the wider travel and tourism sectors.
Overall, whilst the report outlines some positive steps, it leaves UK operators with many unanswered questioned, and no legitimate expectation of resuming operations in the short term. Grant Shapps has spoken in a slightly more positive tone when questioned in the media, but it is clear that the ‘risk’ of travel remains with the general public until such time as the government gives the green light to travel, albeit in limited ways initially.
We hope that when restrictions allow, actual demand matches reported demand for international travel to enable our members to continue in their chosen profession. We urge any pilot who has concerns to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 01444 441149.