This was the year of hope that failed to deliver. Following the dire months of 2020, the airline industry was looking for “the green shoots” of a genuine recovery. Read More » Unfortunately, a new COVID-19 strain, the Delta variant, emerged, dousing optimism for an industry pick-up and sending nervous governments into retreat.
As we all know, air cargo continued to be a bright spot in a dire airline financial landscape, but it was not bright enough to offset the exponential losses airlines are suffering as international passenger operations remain in the doldrums, mainly because of oppressive border entry restrictions and lengthy and expensive quarantine rules.
Perhaps most disappointing of all has been the fact governments have failed -once again - to standardize the measures passengers and airlines need to confidently plan for more commercial flying in 2022.
They should have included mutual recognition of COVID testing regimes, mutual recognition of vaccine passports and risk-based assessments of when and where quarantine or other restrictions are required.
Airlines have done their part, introducing strict health-related measures to ensure their passengers can fly safely. Most carriers have required all employees to be fully vaccinated.
Despite the red ink splashed across their balance sheets, airlines have spent big on expanding the systems that widen opportunities for contactless travel.
Yet across the globe, governments’ approaches to reopening travel remain totally erratic. Confused passengers don’t know who accepts standards for vaccine and testing validation. Nor can they be sure where they have to quarantine or how long before a flight they have to be tested.
Fortunately, it appears the emergence of yet another strain of COVID, Omicron, although quick to spread, has far less severe symptoms than previous pandemic variants. This news bodes well for 2022. As the New Year approaches, signs point to the beginnings of true recovery.
More and more governments are realizing we have to live with the virus, and can not eliminate it completely. The Asia-Pacific lags behind the rest of the world in reopening international travel, but more and more countries in the region are approving Vaccinated Travel Lanes, including Singapore, Australia, Vietnam, South Korea and Japan.
The single critical development that could boost the region’s airline re-emergence would be a speedier opening of China. It continues to impose severe restrictions on international travel and has made it clear these rules will not be broadly relaxed early in 2022.
However, all in all, 2022 is shaping up to be a far better 12 months than 2021. It won’t be a year that takes us back to 2019 levels of commercial flying, but it does bring promise carriers can finally begin their long haul back to normality.
Associate editor and chief correspondent
Orient Aviation Media Group