The Caribbean aviation industry has lost more than US$5 billion due to the COVID-19 pandemic, reported International Air Transport Association security and facilitation manager Alejandro Restrepo.
He was speaking Wednesday in a panel discussion on COVID-19 and the future of borders which was the sixth session of the CARICOM IMPACS Virtual Security Conference 2020.
He reported that the Caribbean, which is the most tourism dependent region, lost US$5.3 billion in revenue, US$740 million in GDP and 23,000 jobs in the aviation industry.
“The challenge COVID-19 poses is totally unprecedented and critical.”
He said that globally, before COVID-19, every day 12.4 million passengers travelled and there were 106,600 flights, but with COVID-19 this was cut in half to about 6.1 million passengers and 63,000 flights. The loss in profits is US$4 billion.
He said for the predicted recovery the industry will reach 2019 levels by 2022 for domestic and by 2024 for international.
“It’s going to be a slow recovery.”
Restrepo stressed that like the recovery following the 9/11 terror attacks the regional industry must work in a co-ordinated way.
“We don’t want a patchwork of policies and regulations.”
Barbados chief immigration officer Wayne Marshall said specific measures were put in place with the reopening of that country’s borders including: travellers wearing masks on board flights, following protocols while in the country, the possibility of answering health questions, temperature screening, and being encouraged to take COVID-19 tests before travelling. Travellers who do not have a valid test will have to take one on arrival and be quarantined while awaiting results.
Marshall said border security must use innovative measures and information technology for it to succeed.
Restrepo said countries should not implement policies that are too stringent, such as fines for non-compliance; and some territories requiring testing and quarantine for seven days. He also stressed there must be a balance in the need to restore passenger confidence in travelling and keeping countries free of COVID-19.
Last month in the Senate Minister in the Finance Ministry Allyson West reported that state carrier Caribbean Airlines reported $96 million in losses over a five-week period owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Earlier this month CARICOM chairman Dr Ralph Gonsalves, in a letter to staff, said LIAT – an already financially troubled airline owned by the governments of Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Dominica – had been struggling to recover from a devastating hurricane season, and now the COVID pandemic meant shareholders cannot give the airline the needed support.