Aviation trade group IATA is calling on Caribbean and Latin American governments to implement more coronavirus testing, reduce taxes and quit restrictive quarantine requirements in order to kick-start travel as carriers prepare for a high season beginning with end-of-year holidays.
Peter Cerda, IATA’s regional vice-president for the Americas, says on 12 November that though the continent is finally seeing an increase in air travel, some countries have been systematically and unilaterally imposing barriers that will prevent a widespread recovery.
Caribbean nations and Argentina, one of the most populous countries in Latin America, have imposed new travel taxes of up to 35% which will discourage customers who are already wary of taking an airplane after the industry all but shut down in the past months, the organisation says.
“This is quite worrisome for IATA and the industry,” Cerda says. “While we fully understand that governments need to recover the financial losses, demand needs to be stimulated and not suppressed at this stage.”
Cerda says the industry fears passenger demand during the region’s high travel season could be thwarted if onerous restrictions and additional costs remain. The traditionally strong travel period begins with the Christmas holiday and continues through March, correlating with the Southern Hemisphere’s summer.
It is also when winter-weary North Americans look for warm-weather retreats.
The countries should “focus more on ensuring the right protocols and highest standards of biosafety procedures [are applied] instead of implementing these taxations, which will deter passengers from coming to nations so highly dependent on air travel,” he says.
Argentina is currently experiencing a difficult economic situation anyway, he adds, so “imposing taxation of this magnitude will deter airlines from restarting in this market.”
The South American country stopped all travel in the early months of the global pandemic and only recently opened its borders to travellers from neighbouring countries.
Legacy flag carrier Aerolineas Argentinas resumed a handful of scheduled domestic flights in October and plans to operate more than 650 flights in November.
In addition to curtailing inbound passengers, Argentina has imposed a 45min spacing rule between arriving aircraft at the country’s only operating field, Ezeiza International airport on the outskirts of capital Buenos Aires.
“We are asking the government to reconsider the limitations urgently,” he adds. IATA has requested the time buffer to be reduced to 30min, in order to accommodate more aircraft.
Mexico has been one bright spot of the region, and has returned to 80-100% of capacity, Cerda says. This is primarily because the country never imposed travel restrictions during the height of the pandemic earlier this year, while other countries effectively sealed their borders.
“The market has basically remained open, even during the most-challenging times,” Cerda says. “That permitted them to maintain a level of service throughout the crisis, and they were able to adapt to the needs of the customer.”
IATA sees direct correlation between entry restrictions and bookings. Countries with the least restrictions, like Mexico, showed the strongest bookings.
The group also once again encouraged countries to work together to pull themselves out of the crisis, rather than going it alone.
“This is a global pandemic, and country-specific protocols will not help aviation play its part in the economic recovery,” Cerda says. “This is no time to reinvent the wheel; the wheel has already been invented.”