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    Guidance to remove mask mandate a step towards normality

    The International Air Transport Association (IATA) welcomed new guidance from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) removing its recommendation that masks should be required in-flight.
    EASA’s updated Aviation Health Safety Protocol, published 11 May, calls for the mandatory mask rule to be relaxed where rules have been relaxed for other transport modes. This important shift reflects the high levels of vaccination, natural immunity levels, and the removal of domestic restrictions in many European nations. The updated guidance also acknowledges the need to move from an emergency situation to a more sustainable mode of managing COVID-19.
    “We welcome EASA’s recommendation to relax the mask mandate, which is another important step along the road back to normality for air passengers. Travelers can look forward to freedom of choice on whether to wear a mask. And they can travel with confidence knowing that many features of the aircraft cabin, such as high frequency air exchange and high efficiency filters, make it one of the safest indoor environments,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General.
    Several jurisdictions still maintain mask requirements. That is a challenge for airlines and passengers flying between destinations with different requirements. “We believe that mask requirements on board aircraft should end when masks are no longer mandated in other parts of daily life, for example theatres, offices or on public transport. Although the European protocol comes into effect next week, there is no globally consistent approach to mask-wearing on board aircraft. Airlines must comply with the regulations applicable to the routes they are operating. The aircraft crew will know what rules apply and it is critical that passengers follow their instructions. And we ask that all travelers be respectful of other people’s decision to voluntarily wear masks even if it not a requirement,” said Walsh.

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    IATA leads calls to scrap remaining Covid-19 rules in Europe

    Airports Council International (ACI) has joined with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to call for all remaining Covid-19 restrictions applying to intra-EU and Schengen area travel to be dropped.
    This includes all testing requirements, the need to present proof of vaccination or complete a passenger locator form.
    The organisations also want to see mask-wearing scrapped for travel within or between states where it is no longer required in other indoor environments.
    Covid-19, and specifically the Omicron variant, is now pervasive throughout all of Europe, and population immunity is at such levels that the “risk of hospitalisation or death has dramatically reduced,” especially for vaccinated people, IATA argued.
    States are adopting surveillance strategies to ensure public health, in the same way as they do for other coronaviruses and infectious diseases.
    Many European states have lifted domestic Covid-19 restrictions, such as the need to provide health credentials to enter social events, or the requirement to wear masks in public spaces.
    Contact tracing efforts are also being stood down, rendering locator forms for international travel redundant.
    As European countries open up and remove restrictions, it is only logical to remove similar restrictions from air transport.
    IATA and ACI Europe today presented further evidence in support of aligning air transport rules with domestic regulations.
    New research by OXERA/Edge Health shows that even if a new variant is discovered and travel restrictions introduced immediately, this only delays the peak of infections by a maximum of only four days.ADVERTISEMENTIn reality, by the time that a new variant emerges, is identified, and restrictions are put in place, the variant is likely already circulating in communities around the world.
    In a scenario where restrictions are delayed by a week from identification, the peak in infections per 100,000 people is only delayed by a maximum of two days.
    These negligible health benefits are therefore outweighed by the significant social and economic damage caused by the negative impact on air travel.
    “The independent research and modelling published today shows that governments can lift restrictions with confidence – both for today and for any future variants of concern. 
    “Travel restrictions have proven to be a blunt instrument with little to no impact on virus transmission.
    “Removing all Covid-19 restrictions will finally fully restore the freedom to travel.
    “That will be a much-needed boost for the whole travel and tourism sectors which has been forced to shed hundreds of thousands of jobs during the pandemic,” said Olivier Jankovec, director general, ACI Europe.
    Julia Simpson, World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) chief executive, said the body supported the call.
    A statement added: “WTTC fully supports the call from IATA and ACI Europe to end all remaining restrictions applying to intra-EU and Schengen area travel.
    “The patchwork of restrictions do nothing to prevent the spread of Covid-19 but have caused serious damage to the economy, causing the loss of jobs and businesses.
    “Over the past few weeks, we have seen economies reopening.
    “It is time to remove these ineffective restrictions and allow people to travel freely.”

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    Airbus seeks Qatar Airways damages as High Court dispute escalates

    Airbus has asked the High Court in London to award it $220 million in damages over two undelivered A350 planes for Qatar Airways.
    The move is the latest step in a long-running and increasingly bitter dispute between the two.
    The court claim for damages came after Qatar Airways sued the manufacturer for $600 million over the erosion to the surface of more than 20 previously delivered A350 jets.
    Airbus said it was also seeking to recover millions of pounds in credits awarded to the airline.
    For its part, Qatar Airways welcomed a decision by the High Court to issue an injunction against Airbus.
    The essence of the order, the carrier said, is that the manufacturer must not do anything between now and a further hearing in April that would “adversely affect its ability to comply with any court order that Qatar Airways might obtain in relation to the purported cancellation of the A321 contract”.
    As the order obtained is an injunction, there would be “serious consequences” for Airbus should this order be breached, the carrier said.
    The decision is the latest in an increasingly ugly dispute between the two parties.
    In January, Airbus cancelled a contract for 50 new A321neo planes with Qatar Airways. ADVERTISEMENTThat followed a decision in December by the Middle East carrier to issue legal proceedings against Airbus in a dispute over the grounding of its fleet of A350 planes.
    The airline took 21 aircraft out of operation last year, arguing paint on the fuselage was “degrading at an accelerated rate” and creating a safety concern.
    Airbus countered, blaming the airline for an “ongoing mischaracterisation of non-structural surface degradation”.
    The manufacturer said the surface paint-related findings have been thoroughly assessed by its own team and confirmed by the European Aviation Safety Agency as having “no airworthiness impact” on the A350.
    The dispute is ongoing, with a hearing due in April.
    In an earnings call Airbus chief executive, Guillaume Faury, said the company was seeking a mutually acceptable resolution.
    “We have to take steps to protect ourselves and protect the company and that is basically what we are doing, but obviously we continue to try to resolve the situation in a more amicable way,” he explained.
    Qatar Airways said it also noted the remarks “with surprise”.
    The carrier said its legal team was unaware of any efforts by Airbus to try to resolve the situation.
    In a further development, Qatar Airways said the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority (QCAA) has now revoked the airworthiness review certificate of an additional A350 aircraft.
    This means a total of twenty-two Airbus A350 aircraft now grounded.

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    TUI to boost holiday options from Glasgow Airport

    TUI UK has confirmed the expansion of its holiday programme for summer 2022 from Glasgow Airport with increased frequency of flying to over nine different destinations.
    The company will increase its frequency of flights to over nine destinations, with many destinations increased to three flights a week or more.
    Flights to customer favourites Antalya and Dalaman in Turkey will operate four times a week and flights to Mallorca four times a week.
    For customers looking to travel long haul, there will be two options available from Glasgow Airport – Cancun and Orlando Melbourne International, the new Florida gateway for TUI customers.
    Flights to Cancun will operate three times a week, increasing to four during peak summer holidays and flights to Florida will operate once weekly and once fortnightly, increasing to three flights a week during peak summer holidays.ADVERTISEMENTTo offer customers even more flexibility this year, TUI will increase flights to several destinations to offer ten- and 11-night holidays for customers travelling from Glasgow Airport.
    The number of flights to Malaga, Corfu, Paphos and Rhodes will be increased to twice a week for summer 2022.
    Richard Sofer, commercial and business development director at TUI, said: “As the airline with the largest regional airport network in the UK, we’re committed to offering our customers as much availability as possible to our great range of holidays.
    “We’re delighted to expand our summer 2022 programme from Glasgow with increased flying to several destinations, providing even more flight options for our customers.”

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    IATA calls for simplification of Covid-19 travel rules

    The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has called on governments to adopt “simple, predictable and practical” measures to safely facilitate the ramping-up of international travel as borders re-open.
    Specifically, the trade body urged governments to focus on simplified health protocols, digital solutions to process health credentials and Covid-19 measures proportionate to risk levels.
    The vision to address the complexity is outlined in the newly released policy paper.
    “As governments are establishing processes to re-open borders, in line with what they agreed in the ministerial declaration of the ICAO High Level Conference of Covid-19, the blueprint will help them with good practices and practical considerations.
    “Over the next months we need to move from individual border openings to the restoration of a global air transport network that can reconnect communities and facilitate economic recovery,” said Conrad Clifford, IATA deputy director general.ADVERTISEMENTThe document aims to facilitate the efficient ramping-up of global connectivity.
    “We must have processes in place to safely and efficiently manage the ramping-up of international travel as borders re-open.
    “With over 18 months of pandemic operational experience and traveller feedback we know that a laser-focus on simplicity, predictability and practicality is essential.
    “That is not the reality today.
    “Over 100,000 Covid-19 related measures have been implemented by governments worldwide.
    “This complexity is a barrier to global mobility that is exacerbated by the inconsistencies these measures have created among states,” said Clifford.
    Key recommendations include the removal of all travel barriers (including quarantine and testing) for those fully vaccinated with a WHO-approved vaccine.
    The management of travel health credentials (vaccination or testing certificates) should also be handled digitally, IATA argued, enabling travellers to complete the process in advance so that they can arrive at the airport ready-to-travel.
    This will facilitate automated check-in processes, reducing airport queuing and wait-times.
    “Travel is important – pre-pandemic some 88 million livelihoods were directly connected to aviation.
    “And the inability to travel freely by air has impacted the quality of life for billions of people.
    “We know that travellers feel confident with the implementation of the Covid-19 safety measures.
    “But they have clearly told us that the current travel experience needs to improve with better information, simpler processing and digital solutions,” concluded Clifford.

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    IATA calls for rapid reopening of global aviation

    The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has urged governments to use the commitments reached at the ICAO High Level Conference on Covid-19 (HLCC) to make real progress towards restoring global air connectivity.
    States attending the event declared their commitment to 14 measures which, if acted upon, would enable airlines to meet the demands of consumers worldwide for a revival of air travel.
    In particular, two commitments need the most urgent action by governments.
    The first sees governments commit to promoting “a harmonized and inclusive approach to facilitate safe international air travel”, while the second refers to the roll-out of ICAO guidelines on harmonising risk assessment.
    “Government-imposed restrictions continue to stop a revival of international travel. ADVERTISEMENT“It remains 70 per cent down on pre-crisis levels.
    “The ICAO HLCC commitments show that governments understand what is needed to re-start global connectivity.
    “The task now is implementation,” said Willie Walsh, IATA director general.
    “Some governments have already started.
    “The imminent opening of the US market to vaccinated travellers will be a big step forward.
    “But we cannot let the output of this meeting remain as words on paper.
    “The airline industry, 88 million livelihoods, 3.5 per cent of global GDP and billions of travellers are counting on governments to deliver on the risk-managed reopening of international travel to which they have committed,” Walsh added.

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    CAA unveils Heathrow price control proposals

    The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has published a consultation on its initial proposals for the next price control at Heathrow Airport.
    This will ultimately set the maximum charges the airport operator can charge its airline customers for using the airport for the next five years.
    The CAA said it recognises that there is still significant uncertainty in the shape of the aviation industry’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
    These proposals will deliver affordable charges for consumers and allow the airport to continue to invest in service quality, while also supporting consumer demand as the industry recovers.
    The package of measures set out in the consultation include a five-year control period, which will allow the airport to smooth charges for consumers and provide investors with medium-term certainty.
    The control period will come into force in summer 2022.
    The potential range of airport charges per passenger will be from £24.50 to £34.40, an increase from £22 per passenger in 2020.
    The CAA will work closely with Heathrow, airlines and other stakeholders to narrow this range over the next few months.ADVERTISEMENTCommenting on the initial proposals, Richard Moriarty, chief executive at the UK Civil Aviation Authority, said: “While international air travel is still recovering, setting a price control for Heathrow Airport against the backdrop of so much uncertainty means we have had to adapt our approach.
    “Our principal objective is to further the interests of consumers while recognising the challenges the industry has faced throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
    “These initial proposals seek to protect consumers against unfair charges, and will allow Heathrow to continue to appropriately invest in keeping the airport resilient, efficient and one that provides a good experience for passengers.
    The CAA said there would be no additional adjustment to Heathrow’s regulatory asset base to account for losses caused by the pandemic on top of the £300 million the CAA allowed earlier this year in response to a request for an adjustment of £2.3 billion last year.
    “We look forward to working with all stakeholders as we refine this package of measures in the coming months, before setting out our final proposals next year.”
    Heathrow Airport had requested the CAA increase the cap on its charges per passenger to between £32 and £43.
    The proposals drew a furious response to Shai Weiss, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic.
    He said: “Today’s initial proposals from the Civil Aviation Authority fail to protect the British consumer, paving the way for Heathrow Airport to introduce unacceptable charges, just as international travel resumes at scale.
    “The world’s most expensive airport risks becoming over 50 per cent more expensive, as Heathrow and its owners seek to recoup their pandemic losses and secure hundreds of millions in dividends to shareholders.
    “It is concerning that the regulator has failed in its first opportunity to step in, and together with industry partners, we will oppose these proposals in the strongest terms to protect passengers.”
    He added: “Abusing its unique position as the UK’s only hub airport, Heathrow’s proposed increase of charges will hurt the UK’s economic recovery and unfairly hit the pockets of families and businesses around the nation.
    “No other airport in the world is proposing increases on this scale and by becoming unaffordable, competing EU hubs and airlines will benefit.”

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    Competition & Markets Authority brands PCR test system a ‘lottery’

    The Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) has found there are features of the PCR testing market which mean “competition alone will not deliver the right outcomes for consumers”.
    The body said there is a risk of a ‘race to the bottom,’ in which providers compete on grounds other than high clinical quality and travellers end up losing out.
    Consumers’ complaints include that they are paying over the odds and receiving poor service, with test kits and results arriving late or not at all.
    They also say that, when things do go wrong, they are unable even to contact some providers, let alone get refunds when they are due.
    In addition to providing advice to the UK government, the CMA is already using its powers to act where it can.
    On August 25th, it published an open letter to all PCR test providers warning them to stay on the right side of consumer law.
    On September 3rd, the CMA launched an investigation into Expert Medicals, one of the largest providers in the market, and investigations into other companies are being considered.
    Meanwhile, a further 19 test providers have also been told directly by the CMA to improve their pricing information or risk further action.ADVERTISEMENTBut the CMA’s review has found that, even with the enforcement of consumer protection law, competition cannot be guaranteed to deliver the right outcomes for consumers in the PCR testing market.
    A combination of up-front regulation, monitoring and wider sanctions is needed.
    Consumer research also found that being listed on the official government website was the most commonly cited factor in why consumers had chosen a particular provider.
    Building on previous advice provided to the Department for Health & Social Care (DHSC), the advice published today makes a number of recommendations, including creating a one-stop shop list of quality, approved test providers by significantly improving the basic standards to qualify for inclusion on the list.
    The CMA also suggested introducing a comprehensive monitoring and enforcement programme to ensure providers on the official list meet these basic standards and rules.
    Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA, said: “Buying a PCR travel test is a lottery.
    “From complaints about dodgy pricing practices, to unfair terms, to failure to provide tests on time or at all, to problems with getting refunds, the experience for some is just not good enough.
    “Recent weeks have underlined that we will not hesitate to take action against any PCR test provider we suspect is breaking the law and exploiting their customers.”
    He added: “However, competition alone will not do the job, even when backed by enforcement of consumer law.
    “The PCR testing market is unusual because its key features are dictated by Government policy decisions to fight the pandemic.”
    The findings come as reports suggest Boris Johnson will scrap the PCR test system in a wider overhaul of travel restrictions later this week.
    Commenting on the findings, Rory Boland, Which? travel editor, said: “The government must now urgently set out how it will implement the regulator’s recommendations and ensure safe, reliable and affordable tests are available for all travellers.
    “Meanwhile, the regulator must continue to come down strongly on any providers not following the rules, to send a clear message to the rest of the market and prevent any more travellers being left out of pocket.”

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