Airlines, airports and others in the industry are pushing hard for widespread pre-flight COVID testing in order to unlock international travel. However, as potential vaccines begin to be tested, will the impetus to test soon be removed with the arrival of a proven inoculation? Karen Chan, CEO of AirAsia.com, thinks not.
Won’t a vaccine remove the need for testing?
There is a strong emphasis on testing right now as the key to unlocking international travel. IATA is calling for it and is supported by numerous airlines around the world. For most involved in aviation, rapid pre-flight testing is widely being lauded as the solution to all troubles.
But what about when a vaccine arrives? Surely, then, international travel will pick back up significantly. With a proven vaccination out in the population, the need for testing would disappear. Or would it?
Testing and vaccines were popular topics of conversation at last week’s World Aviation Festival, which, due to current challenges, had to move online this year. It was interesting to note that, even after a vaccine was available, many industry experts widely agreed that testing would be with us longer term.
The crossover period
During the festival, CEO of AirAsia.com Karen Chan made some good points regarding the need for testing to proceed in tandem with a vaccine. She noted that,
“There would be a period whereby there would be an overlap of having the same quarantine measures, the same COVID testing measures, even when the vaccine is available.”
Chan believes that there will be a lengthy crossover period, during which time the vaccine will be being rolled out. Improvements in testing would hopefully remove the risk of false negatives and could give airlines and governments the assurance they need to allow free travel between nations. She added,
“I do feel that it would be in phases, even when the vaccine is available.
“I think a lot of the industry players will still be requesting for COVID testing, even if you actually have the vaccine. At least in the beginning of the period when the vaccine has been taken.”
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Threatening the democratization of air travel
AirAsia.com is one of the world’s most revolutionary travel brands. Its slogan – ‘now everyone can fly’ – has been its mantra since it launched, targeting a goal of opening up air travel to the masses. Chan showed pride in this achievement, saying,
“We democratised air travel 18 years ago, so that now everyone can fly AirAsia.com. These days, flying is for everyone, the convenience is open to everyone.”
She warned that, should a vaccine be the requirement for international travel, this democratization of aviation could be put at risk. While some nations may be rich enough to fund the vaccine for its citizens, many will not be in a position to do that. Chan cautioned against taking the vaccine as a must-have measure for travel, saying it could end up excluding some people. She said,
“It depends on the cost of the vaccine in different countries. As a low-cost carrier, a lot of the passengers that we are carrying might be foreign workers coming into the country. Will they be able to even afford the vaccine?”
Aside from this, there will be a portion of society who are unwilling to take the vaccine, or at least reluctant to be an early adopter. For the time being, with or without a vaccine, it seems testing is here to stay.