Covid travel restrictions mean State risks falling behind, Willie Walsh to say

Ex-IAG boss to call for ‘clear pathway’ for aviation at Oireachtas committee appearance

 Willie Walsh is to appear before the Oireachtas transport committee. File photograph: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

Willie Walsh is to appear before the Oireachtas transport committee. File photograph: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

 

Covid-linked travel restrictions mean the State is “at risk of falling behind its key economic partners”, former IAG boss Willie Walsh will tell an Oireachtas committee today.

Mr Walsh, who previously led Aer Lingus before taking over at IAG, will tell the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications Networks that the State “continues to impose some of the strictest Covid-19 measures in Europe”.

“As several international and EU markets begin opening up, Ireland is at risk of falling behind its key economic partners,” he will say, arguing for a “clear pathway” to reopening the aviation sector.

He will call on the Government to resume EU traffic light systems for travel, remove all quarantine requirements across all categories of travel for vaccinated passengers, and to accept “best-in-class” antigen tests, rather than solely relying on PCR testing. Travel corridors should be established, he will say, with countries like the US, “to allow a quicker de-escalation of restrictions between specific country pairs”.

Due to strong economic and cultural ties with the US, there will be opportunities to explore safe travel arrangements with it, he will say.

‘Cash burn’

Mr Walsh will also tell the committee that “cash burn” across the aviation sector will come in at $81 billion this year, on top of the $149 billion in 2020. While Government supports and capital markets have been “filling this hole in airline balance sheets”, Mr Walsh will tell the committee that “more government relief measures, particularly in the form of employment support programmes, will be needed this year”.

The former airline boss will be giving testimony to the committee on behalf of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), of which he is now director general and chief executive.

He will also criticise the idea that travel policies can be built around vaccination. The State has introduced exemptions to its mandatory hotel quarantine regime for vaccinated people. While the IATA welcomes such moves and expects they will gather momentum as vaccination numbers rise, Mr Walsh will say that vaccination should not be “a pre-requisite for travel, as it risks discriminating against those individuals who are unable to get a vaccine for medical or other reasons, or who lack access to vaccines – a common situation in much of the world today”.

Costs of testing

Mr Walsh will also criticise the costs of testing, and argue that governments need to accept digital Covid-19 test results and vaccination certificates. “We are already seeing intolerable waits at some airports, as airlines, passengers and border control authorities are having to rely on paper processes at a time when airports are no longer designed to accommodate them.”

The Government should also publish clear guidance on when international travel will resume, he will say. “Most governments have not yet provided clear indications of the benchmarks that they will use to safely give people back their travel freedom,” he will state. With the novel coronavirus “becoming endemic, learning to safely live, work and travel with it is critical”.