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Debate rages in aviation industry over pre-flight vaccine requirements

written by Hannah Dowling | December 4, 2020

The debate surrounding the requirement of mandatory pre-flight COVID-19 vaccinations in the near future has now intensified, as the UK approved the first vaccine for distribution.

Global airport industry body Airports Council International has joined with a number of airlines in stating that a blanket rule requiring pre-flight vaccination could be as disruptive to the industry as quarantine measures.

The debate was sparked last week when CEO of Australia’s Qantas Airways Alan Joyce stated that a COVID-19 vaccination would be necessary for passengers on its international flights, which remain largely subdued due to Australia’s strict border controls.

However other global airlines, and now airports, have vocalised their concerns that waiting for a full rollout of vaccines would take quite some time, and could significantly hinder the industry’s recovery.

“Just as quarantine effectively halted the industry, a universal requirement for vaccines could do the same,” ACI World director general Luis Felipe de Oliveira said.

“While we welcome the rapid development and deployment of vaccines, there will be a considerable period before they are widely available.

“The industry cannot wait till vaccination becomes available worldwide. During the transition period, tests and vaccines together will play a key role on the industry’s recovery.”


The Australian government has indicated that people arriving from abroad will need to provide proof of vaccination, or complete two weeks of government-mandated quarantine within a limited number of hotels around the country.

The capacity of Australia’s government quarantine scheme has forced the government to implement a cap on the number of international arrivals allowed into the country per week, and continues to only allow citizens and permanent residents to enter.

Qantas’ Joyce said that Australia’s policy could spread to other countries, noting proof of vaccination is already required for yellow fever for some destinations.

“Other governments are moving in that direction,” he said on Thursday.

It should be noted that the position of Australian airlines, as well as others based in Oceania and the south Pacific might differ from those throughout the rest of the world, in light of the fact that these countries have effectively eradicated the virus from their communities.

Shukor Yusof, head of Malaysia-based aviation consultancy Endau Analytics, said south-east Asian countries would likely take different approaches on vaccine requirements to the US and EU, as Asian countries have some of the lowest case numbers of the novel coronavirus globally.

Meanwhile, the head of airline trade group the International Air Transport Association stated that compulsory vaccination will likely not work in every nation.

IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac argued that systematic testing is “more critical to reopening borders than the vaccine”, reiterating the stance of the trade group since the beginning of the pandemic, that pre-flight testing should replace quarantine measures and border closures.

Some experts said vaccines would be difficult to mandate because of limited supply and a range of quality.

Dr David Freedman, a US infectious diseases specialist, believes more countries will follow Britain’s lead and use testing to reduce quarantine times.

“For the majority of the world’s population, especially in the developing world, it’s going to be years before everybody that wants to fly even has the possibility of getting the vaccine,” said Freedman, a professor at University of Alabama at Birmingham.

As more countries develop vaccines, airlines and governments will need to decide which ones to clear.

“The other issue about mandatory vaccines is going to be, well, what vaccine did you get?” Freedman said. “Do we trust every vaccine that’s made in the world?”

The comments come just days after the UK announced it had approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for distribution.

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the previously announced Pfizer/BioNTech jab would begin being rolled out by “early next week”.

COVID-19 has been the biggest crisis the global aviation sector has ever seen.

Around the world, airline operations have ground to a halt, and hundreds of thousands of employees have been placed out of work, either temporarily or otherwise.

Near-whole fleets have been grounded and moved into prolonged storage, with airlines also accelerating retirement plans on older aircraft.

A number of airlines have been forced to file for bankruptcy protections against creditors as they restructure their businesses, a last-stitch attempt at surviving to see the other side of the pandemic.

As such, the news of an effective vaccine could not come fast enough.

According to the International Air Transport Association, the world’s airlines are on track to lose a total of $157 billion throughout 2020 and 2021 as global COVID cases continue to surge.

The IATA recently downgraded its industry outlook since June, when it had forecast $100 billion in losses across the two-year period.

Now, the association is projecting a $118.5 billion deficit across the industry in 2020 alone, with a further $38.7 billion loss predicted for 2021.

Current IATA estimates suggest that passenger numbers will drop to 1.8 billion this year from 4.5 billion in 2019, and will recover only partially to 2.8 billion next year.  Passenger revenue for 2020 is expected to fall 69 per cent to $191 billion.

“That’s by far the biggest shock the industry has experienced in the post-World War Two years,” IATA chief economist Brian Pearce said.

According to Pearce, the average airline now has enough liquidity to survive another 8.5 months, though some only have enough to last mere weeks

“I think we will get consolidation through some airline failures,” he said.


  • Patrickk


    The issue is that testing is very unreliable and positive cases come up as far as 10 days after a negative test. A vaccine gives you more certainty there you have some immunity and a lower if any viral load.

  • Rick


    Interesting that not everyone shares Mr Joyce’s draconian suggestion that all require a jab before entering the hallowed Qantas experiences.. The best point being that not all vaccines are created equal nor are CEO’s he has to go. If I hear him ranting about compulsory vaccines anymore I may be forced to buy shares in virgin.

  • Ron Spencer


    The anti vaccine people are going to find it hard to find a airline that won’t want a vaccine certificate before flying and a country to flight to that doesn’t require a the same

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