The inconsistent and often high Covid-19 testing fees around the world is a significant impediment to recovery of international air travel, said top aviation executive speakers at the Virtual PATA Annual Summit 2021.
We need to sort out the PCR tests and reduce costs; having results come back within 30 seconds is what's needed.
Emirates president Tim Clark said the prices of PCR tests, the type of Covid-19 test most commonly required by governments for entry, are untenable.
"Quicker and cheaper tests are needed" on a wider scale to pave for the recovery of travel, said the airline chief, echoing persistent calls from IATA for an end to price gouging on Covid testing. "We need to sort out the PCR tests and reduce costs; having results come back within 30 seconds is what's needed."
And when that happens, Clark believes the likelihood of airlines incorporating test fees into airfares would be much higher. "I'm not saying who’s paying, but when Covid test prices can fall to [a level] where airlines can absorb into airfares, we will pay for that like what was done for health insurance absorbed into our fares."
But high Covid testing fees is just but one of the manifold challenges that the global travel industry is facing on its path to recovery.
Clark, seen here giving Virtual PATA Annual Summit attendees a look of his travel pass on mobile pass, said the digital health pass is the "first and right step" to reopen travel.
Vaccination policy: Whose mandate?
While of the belief that vaccination rollout would be the "panacea" to the problem, Clark said that Emirates has never stipulated a mandatory vaccination mandate. "I believe that when inoculation gets at speed and pace around the world, eventually large
swathes of population will be inoculated anyway."
Vaccination requirement into a country is not a decision undertaken by airlines though. That onus lies on governments, he stressed, because ultimately "the states that the airline is flying into will decide the entry requirement for visitors".
However, he believes that it's very likely that governments around the world will mandate vaccination to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and future variants, as what is being seen now as more countries reopen their doors to international tourism.
But requiring proof of Covid-19 vaccination as a condition for international travel risks widens the gap between haves and have-nots, he noted, which is already seen in the unequal vaccination distribution between rich and poor nations.
Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths, who spoke at the same panel, urged for global vaccination rollout to be stepped up. "I believe there’s a great linear relationship between vaccination rollout and Covid receding in the UK, US, UAE and Israel — the rest of world needs to get to that level if we want to get personal mobility back."
Greater traction is also sought for the implementation of digital travel passes, which Clark deems a "first and right step" to reopen travel.
But like vaccination distribution, the travel pass also faces significant roadblocks in its rollout, especially in developing countries where digitalising data and putting them into the airline systems are not without its challenges.
"What happens to countries which haven't been vaccinated or able to digitalise?" questioned Clark.
Griffiths still sees a strong future in Dubai Airports' hub model.
It's not the end for A380 or Dubai hub
Pundits may say that the pandemic has reduced the number of Airbus A380 aircraft in the skies,
but Clark firmly believes that "there is still a role in the post pandemic world"
for what he said is a "hugely popular" product.
"The A380 will still be primary driver of our business model, for as long as Dubai remains a global superhub," said Clark. "I believe the hub-spoke model will still work when the pandemic is over, as well as point to point for smaller city pairs."
Equally adamant about the role of Dubai's hub future is Griffiths.
"Hubs are an aggressive aggregation opportunity, they bring the world together in a way no direct service can," said Griffiths. "Smaller aircraft with longer legs will just make a hub stronger, because we can serve even more marginal destinations through the aggregation power of hubs."