Aviation industry leaders have called for preflight testing for passengers to replace quarantining on arrival as airlines continue to struggle with a massive slump in demand due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Industry lobbying group the International Air Transport Association, or IATA, has predicted the sector is set to lose $87 billion this year, following a surge in infections and renewed travel restrictions.
The IATA forecasts that precrisis air traffic levels may only return in 2024 and expects passenger numbers will still be down by around 30 percent next year.
The sector welcomed the recent Pfizer vaccine breakthrough that boosted share prices but warned that people will be remain cautious to book flights until they have been immunized, which may be many months away and this will delay the opening up of international travel.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Delta Chief Executive Ed Bastian said immunizing large sections of the world's population presented major logistical challenges.
"Testing is going to be critical to opening up international travel. It is going to take a while before the vaccine rollout," he said.
Guillaume Faury, chief executive of Airbus, told the paper: "We can't wait for vaccines to arrive. We have to use large scale testing. We are now entering a second winter of the pandemic. We are looking at ways forward for testing at a large scale (which would) allow some recovery in passenger traffic."
Faury criticized the failure of European governments to coordinate on a response to the crisis. He said the EU had no "legitimacy in health and other sovereignty issues. That is creating huge complexity."
British Airways and American Airlines will this week launch a voluntary COVID-19 test for passengers traveling to the United Kingdom from three airports in the United States.
The companies seek to demonstrate how testing for the virus can reopen international travel and nullify the need for quarantine.
In a statement, British Airways Chief Executive Sean Doyle said: "If we have a testing formula it gives people certainty from which they can plan."
He added that he was "confident "the airline would demonstrate that a test three days before flying would make quarantining unnecessary.
Doyle said: "The vaccine is great news, and we are encouraged by that. But the details of when it is rolled out, to what scale and when it will have a material effect on travel is unclear. It is obvious we need a solution in the short term to get travel going again."