Digital Covid-19 travel pass must be top priority for SA airlines, says aviation body

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In South Africa, aviation supported 364 000 jobs and contributed $7.6 billion to the country's GDP in 2019, according to IATA. (iStock)
In South Africa, aviation supported 364 000 jobs and contributed $7.6 billion to the country's GDP in 2019, according to IATA. (iStock)
  • The Airline Association of Southern Africa hosted its annual general assembly virtually this week.
  • During the event, the regional vice president Africa and the Middle East of the global airline body, the International Air Transport Association set out three key priorities identified for airlines in SA.
  • The three priorities are support for the entire airline industry in the country; adopting an inter-operable digital platform for Covid-19 testing and vaccination certificates; and increasing intra-Africa air connectivity. 

Three key priorities have been identified for airlines in South Africa, according to Kamil Al-Awadhi, regional vice president Africa and the Middle East of the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

In South Africa, aviation supported 364 000 jobs and contributed $7.6 billion to the country's GDP in 2019, according to IATA. Over 80% of these jobs could be lost if air connectivity is not restored, especially when passenger demand for South Africa is not expected to return to 2019 levels until 2026.   

Firstly, Al-Awadhi stressed the importance of keeping taxes and charges in check.

"Now is not the right time to overburden the industry with additional charges. We need to work together as an industry to ensure sustainable recovery. Financial support and relief must be provided to the entire airline industry if it is to fulfil its role as an economic enabler and job creator," he said at the annual general assembly of the Airline Association of Southern Africa (AASA) which took place virtually on Thursday. 

"The government has several levers at its disposal to assist all carriers and service providers, both public and privately-owned. Besides cash or financial guarantees, they include reductions, waivers and discounts on user charges and taxes on air travel and aviation and wage subsidies."

A second key priority would be for an "inter-operable" digital platform for Covid-19 testing and vaccination certificates must be adopted.  

"As passenger numbers increase in the recovery, digitally managing travel health credentials will be essential to avoid queuing and crowding at airports, with wait times already doubling and expected to further increase if processes aren’t digitalised and made more efficient," said Al-Awadhi. 

In his view, the IATA Travel Pass and the African Union's Trusted Travel Pass are both tools that can help governments efficiently and conveniently verify traveler health credentials. Privately owned SA airline Airlink announced on Thursday that it is part of a trial using the IATA Travel Pass.

The third key priority identified by IATA is the importance of increasing intra-Africa air connectivity.

The African Union's Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) is intended to unlock travel and economic benefits within the continent. An IATA-commissioned econometric study found that the full implementation of SAATM across the continent would create 14 500 new jobs for South Africa and add US$283.9 million to the country's GDP.

IATA is working on a plan for effective SAATM implementation, together with AASA and other industry bodies on the continent. Current constraints include protectionism and the negotiation of bilateral agreements which have not been completed.

In addition, IATA has recently urged the South African government to ensure the effective functioning of the South African International and Domestic Air Services Licensing Council to enable the granting of operating licenses for new routes and increased frequencies on existing routes to South African carriers. 

"Aviation remains critical to support economies and is a catalyst for growth. Governments need to prioritise aviation as part of their national strategies and their recovery plans, and we look forward to continue working with the government of South Africa and provide all necessary support for the safe and sustainable recovery of aviation," Al-Awadhi concluded.

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