Despite concerns over the impact such measures will have on air travel, IATA analysis suggests airlines will weather the storm in the long term.

By Patrick Appleton

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has called for greater cooperation in addressing the public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) due to the coronavirus.

IATA said that as the situation continues to evolve rapidly day-by-day, collaboration between states and industries—in particular those facilitating the movement of goods and people—is vital in the battle to contain the virus.

Media reports state that more than 550 people have died in China, where the virus originated. Confirmed cases of coronavirus have risen to more than 28,000 worldwide, according to the BBC.

The virus has affected at least 20 countries globally, with flag carriers in the UK, Egypt, Finland and Italy among those to temporarily halt flights to mainland China.

“International coordination is key in dealing with any virus outbreak. The coronavirus situation is evolving daily and there are still many unanswered questions about the virus,” said Dr David Powell, IATA’s Medical Advisor. 

“At this point in time, the WHO is advising measures to limit the risk of export or import of the virus, without unnecessary restrictions on international traffic, and is not recommending any restriction of travel or trade with China.”

Despite concerns over the impact such measures will have on air travel, recent IATA analysis suggests that airlines will weather the storm in the long term.

Even in the outbreak of SARS, monthly international passenger traffic returned to its pre-crisis level within nine months

“In the past, the airline industry has proven resilient to shocks, including pandemics,” said IATA. 

“Even in the outbreak of SARS, monthly international passenger traffic returned to its pre-crisis level within nine months.”

Strong growth in the Chinese air transport market in recent years has seen an influx of 450 million additional passengers compared to a decade ago.

IATA said it recognized the disruption caused by the virus at the busiest travel period in the region as New Year celebrations were taking place.

However, the trade association for the world’s airlines added that any effect on civil aviation is likely to be “temporary”, according to analysis of previous epidemics such as SARS and Avian Flu (bird flu).

While global passenger traffic returned to pre-crisis level within nine months after SARS, the 2005 and 2013 bird flu crisis had a “much milder and short-lived” impact as air travel “rebounded quickly” once fears over the global spreading of the virus had lessened.

IATA continues to closely monitor developments related to the coronavirus outbreak and is engaged with the World Health Organization, ICAO and the US Centers for Disease Control.

WHO is advising measures to limit the risk of export or import of the disease, but has advised against unnecessary restrictions on international traffic.

Based on the experience of different previous outbreaks, IATA has produced an Emergency Response Plan and Action Checklist for carriers.

A key element of the plan is a series of guidelines and best practices for airline staff in the event of public health crisis.

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