The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has called on governments in the Middle East to develop re-start plans to safely re-link their citizens, businesses and economies to global markets when the COVID-19 epidemiological situation permits.

IATA has also called for regional coordination to ensure the plans can be efficiently implemented and urged governments to remain vigilant about the airline industry’s financial situation.

“Re-establishing air connectivity will energise the economic recovery from COVID-19. With millions of jobs at risk from the prolonged shutdown, not a day should be lost once the epidemiological situation enables a re-opening,” said Kamil Al Awadhi, IATA Regional Vice President for Africa and the Middle East.

“Restarting safely after a year or more in lockdown will need careful preparations. At the national level it is important that governments work with industry, so everyone understands the benchmarks that need to be achieved to facilitate the lifting of travel restrictions. And at the regional level, where traffic is expected to ramp-up first, it is critical that governments are talking to each other so that all parties are aligned and ready for a restart.”

IATA data shows January air passenger traffic in the region was down 82.3 per cent compared to January 2019. The ongoing crisis puts more than 1.7 million jobs in the Middle East and $105 billion in GDP at risk.

“This is a unique situation. But we have good practices to rely on. Safety is the top priority for anything associated with aviation. That is because governments have long established global best practices for working together with industry and with each other. This same approach will help the re-start. There are two ends to every route. Both must be prepared or the restart cannot happen,” said Al Awadhi.

A successful operational restart will include bringing aircraft and terminals back into service, according to IATA. Airlines therefore need to ready their crew, technical personnel and aircraft. After a year of lockdowns, this requires refresher training and checks, IATA added.

Testing and vaccinations will also play a role in opening borders to travel as the pandemic comes under control, the association stated, noting its IATA Travel Pass would help to conveniently manage health credentials, while protecting against fraud.

“With Qatar Airways already piloting IATA Travel Pass and Emirates, Etihad and Gulf Air signed-up for trials, the Gulf is at the forefront of preparations,” said Al Awadhi.