Domestic flying in the USA and a handful of other markets rebounded fast in the first nine months of this year. International services should follow. Despite the pandemic still raging in parts of the world, more and more governments now have enough faith in vaccines to start lifting border restrictions. It means that during this quarter and into 2022 we should see some kind of return to normality.
The USA is removing its ban on vaccinated travelers from 8 November. United Airlines is among those banking on a wave of pent-up demand from tourists, business people and those visiting family, by preparing for the “largest transatlantic expansion in our history”. As well as reinstating traditional routes, it is adding new ones, including to Amman in Jordan and Bergen in Norway, in 2022.
Even in parts of Asia, where lockdowns and frontier controls have been among the most stringent in the world, what has been dubbed “Open-up October” has begun. The moves should give some relief to airlines and their employees, and a tourism sector, that have been struggling through an enforced hibernation for almost 20 months.
Thailand will allow fully-vaccinated travelers from “low-risk” countries to enter the country without quarantine next month. Meanwhile, Singapore is permitting the double-jabbed from nine nations, including Canada, the UK and the USA, to visit on similar terms. Bali – a top tourist destination – is also finally opening, although visitors from Australia, a key market, the UK and USA must quarantine.
Hong Kong remains an outlier. Although flights are coming into the Chinese territory from various parts of the world, its “zero-Covid” approach means most passengers are still having to isolate in hotels on arrival. It is hardly an incentive to plan a visit to what was one of the region’s leading commercial and tourism hubs – traffic at Hong Kong International in August was 4% of 2019 levels.
To coincide with Singapore’s relaxation of its border policy, its flag-carrier is to restore an icon of the skies. Launch customer Singapore Airlines will operate the Airbus A380 to London from 19 November – the first time the 471-seat superjumbo will have flown in the carrier’s colours since the start of the crisis. There will be total of 18 flights weekly on the route.
In Australia, Qantas is set for an even earlier comeback on the international airways than it thought, after a decision by New South Wales to open its borders. Although flights will be limited initially to fully-vaccinated Australian citizens and residents, the country’s national carrier is hoping to restart services to London (via Darwin) and Los Angeles from 1 November.
It is not all going the right way for the region’s airlines, however. Travel restrictions mean that the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines will hold its November congress online for the second year running. The decision comes after many airline bosses did manage to meet face-to-face for the first time in months at the International Air Transport Association annual meeting in Boston last week.
IATA chief Willie Walsh is one industry leader who has been managing to travel, hot-footing it from Boston to London this week to speak at an Aviation Club luncheon. The former British Airways chief executive took the opportunity to blast the UK’s border policies for, as he put it, holding back recovery. The European Union, he suggested, was leading the way in safely reopening air transport.
One major story this week was not related to the pandemic, with news emerging that a former chief technical pilot for Boeing has been indicted on six counts of fraud in relation to the evaluation into the recertification of the 737 Max by the Federal Aviation Administration. It follows the type’s grounding in 2019. Mark Forkner faces jail if found guilty.
The prosecution alleges that Forkner intentionally withheld critical information from investigators about the aircraft’s new Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), which was held responsible for two fatal accidents in 2018 and 2019. The Max was subsequently taken out of service for 20 months.
The development is a further embarrassment for Boeing as it attempts to put the Max saga behind it and rebuild trust with customers as it ramps-up production for the recovery.
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