OPINION: Fool proof digital vaccine certificates management system key in aviation sector recovery
By Captain Hussein Mohammed
Vaccination efforts against COVID-19 are finally underway in Kenya. This is a major feat in building back lost confidence in air travel.
This development shines a ray of hope for many, not only in the country but also across the globe to start travelling again, either for leisure or business. It portends positive signs of recovery for the aviation sector.
Following a dramatic drop in demand for passenger travel and air freight, to a lesser extent due to the COVID-19 pandemic and containment measures, the viability of many firms and in particular, airlines have been tested to the core.
Like the overall economy, the pandemic caused total disruption in the aviation industry. Most airlines, local, regional or even International were forced to significantly reduce capacity by up to 70 per cent. Flight frequencies were as a result negatively affected. Airlines that were doing daily flights pre-COVID-19, reduced to two flights per week as other flights almost grounded to a halt.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) even described 2020 as the worst year in history of Air Travel when it announced full-year global passenger traffic fell by 65.9 per cent compared to the full year of 2019.
However, things are beginning to look up with the rollout of vaccination across different parts of the world.
This crucial exercise will significantly boost levels of confidence beyond what was earlier projected by a number of various industry players.
Kenya Association of Travel Agents (KATA) in one of the largest national traveller readiness surveys since the start of the global pandemic, commissioned by The National Tourism Crisis Steering Committee, shows 65 per cent of travellers are prepared for domestic travel again post-COVID-19, 34 per cent regionally and 25 per cent internationally.
The “Travellers’ Readiness to Travel Post Covid-19” survey however indicates that majority of the respondents are extremely concerned with being quarantined at the destination (76 per cent) followed by contracting COVID-19 (61 per cent).
IATA’s latest poll showing growing confidence in a return to air travel also attests to these fears. With current travel controls, many travellers say they are feeling frustrated due to loss of freedom to travel that negatively impacts on their socio-economic and health status.
On the flipside, 81 per cent of travellers interviewed by IATA say they believe that they will be more likely to travel once they are vaccinated. It shows travellers are seeking lasting solutions that will make them free to travel again even as healthcare professionals seek for long-term solution to end the pandemic.
In the short-term the airline industry and its key stakeholders need to find an effective system that offers contactless tests and remotely distributes COVID-19 vaccination certificates.
One of the hardest hurdles in boosting confidence is finding a fool proof system that will be free from manipulation. Emergence of fake COVID-19 test certificates created a major threat to clawing back gains that had been made in placing the aviation industry back on the runway.
IATA has already hinted that it is coming with a standardised travel pass, an exciting development that will allow users to validate and authenticate all country regulations regarding Covid-19 passenger travel requirements through their smartphones.
Consequently, travellers will securely access their test and vaccination certificates from authorized labs and test centres through the app.
This will give travellers some level of confidence because it would allow individuals to travel freely again without the need for multiple tests that are also time wasting and have contributed partly to traveller frustrations.
To further support full airline recovery, we need to find local solutions that will encourage Kenyans to start flying again. We will need to give incentives like price reduction and cut down air charter costs. I reckon the industry has to do that to build public confidence on travelling.
Airlines should also be ready for a spike in cargo business at least in the short-term. The vaccination exercise will open up Kenya as a regional air travel hub and that might bring extra cargo capacity to the East Africa region. I have that feeling that this development might boost cargo capacity.
We will also need to do robust marketing and start looking for other revenue streams like starting regional passenger services to underserved areas like Nairobi to Goma directly, to Juba and Bujumbura. Other routes to look out for include Nairobi to Lilongwe and Lusaka which are also currently underserved.
-The writer is Bluebird Aviation, General Manager.