Airlines brand EU traffic light travel system ‘a failure’

Deal fell short of recommending that testing replace quarantines

Airlines branded EU efforts to end conflicting Covid-19 travel restrictions a failure that threatened millions of jobs in the bloc.

The Council of Ministers was on Tuesday expected to adopt the traffic light system, classing regions as green, orange and red according to their level of risk, to end a confusing patchwork of travel rules across the block.

However, aviation bodies backed by Ryanair, Aer Lingus and State airports company DAA, branded their efforts "a failure" after the deal fell short of recommending that testing replace quarantines while allowing member states to refuse travellers entry.

Airports Council International - Europe (ACI), Airlines for Europe (A4E), the International Air Transport Association (IATA), trade unions and other organisations asked the EU Commission to introduce a common testing regime to eliminate the need for quarantines and other restrictions.

“The current lack of co-ordination between member states has killed the nascent recovery of travel and tourism, thus jeopardising millions of jobs associated with the sector,” they said.

They wanted member states to allow travellers from green and orange regions to move freely, while requiring those from red areas to show test results confirming they did not have Covid-19 before travelling.

“These shortcomings are a political failure,” said a statement from ACI, A4E and the IATA.

“The inability of the Council to go beyond shallow co-ordination and establish a truly harmonised and workable framework is now beyond any doubt.”

Earlier, the Council of Ministers said any restrictions on the free movement of EU citizens should be “proportionate, non-discriminatory and lifted as soon as the epidemiological situation allows”.

Based on European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) figures, regions will be classed green if the 14-day infection rate is below 25 out of 100,000 people, while 4 per cent of those tested return positive results.

Regions will be classed as orange if infections are lower than 50/100,000 and the test rate is higher than 4 per cent, or if infections are between 10 and 150 for every 100,000, but the test rate is lower than 4 per cent.

Regions will be classed red where the infection rate is higher than 50/100,000 and the test rate is higher than 4 per cent, or if the infection rate is higher than 150 for every 100,000.

Currently, just some regions in the Nordic states, the Baltic, parts of Greece, Bulgaria and Italy match the green criteria.

The air travel industry said borders would remain closed as the system does not replace quarantines with testing.

Airlines and airports argued that the ministers ignored ECDC advice that the effectiveness of quarantines was questionable while community transmission continued.

Requiring member states to publish information on new restrictions just 24 hours before they come into force does not provide enough certainty for travellers, the organisations warned.

They noted that hopes for solution to the problem now lay with the European Commission, which has charged the EU Aviation Safety Agency and ECDC with developing a common testing protocol for the block.

Ryanair called on the Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan to adopt the EU traffic light system immediately so travel to and from the Republic can restart without defective 14-day quarantines.

The airline has already warned that it would be forced to close its Cork and Shannon airport bases for the winter if the Government fails to adopt the plan.

Official figures published this week show air traffic in the Republic slumped two-thirds last month to 38,172 flights.

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O’Halloran covers energy, construction, insolvency, and gaming and betting, among other areas