Cautious approach needed in international flight resumption amid COVID-19: experts

Friday, 2020-09-04 10:25:40
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Vietnamese aviation authorities have prepared detailed plans for resuming commercial flights to several foreign destinations.
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NDO – The resumption of international routes is vital for Vietnam to revive its economy post COVID-19, but it should be done with caution while ensuring control of the epidemic, experts have suggested.

>>> Vietnam Airlines to re-start six domestic routes

>>> International air routes proposed to reopen from mid-September

At the end of July, COVID-19 resurrected in Da Nang City – a key market for domestic aviation and tourism – and then continued to spread to other places, laying a seriously negative mental impacts on the whole society, leading to a dramatic decline on demand for tourism and air travel.

Right from the first wave of COVID-19 infections in Vietnam, airlines have implemented all necessary measures to limit damage, such as cutting total costs from 50% to 70% compared to the same period last year; negotiating with partners to reschedule and reduce interest rates; property transferring and selling aircraft; and reducing staff salaries along with cutting ticket prices.

However, due to the significant impact of the epidemic, all the local airlines fell into serious cash flow depletion. It is estimated that in this year alone, Vietnamese airlines lost more than US$4 billion.

Facing this situation, the Vietnam Aviation Business Association (VABA) has sent a written request to the Prime Minister, calling for facilitating airlines to borrow a credit package worth from VND25-27 trillion with preferential interest rates supported by the Government for three to four years, while allowing air service fee reduction until the end of 2021, in addition to applying a 50% discount on aviation service fees.

Notably, the association petitioned the Prime Minister to allow the reopening of international routes to foreign countries where COVID-19 has been put under control, as well as issued standards on procedures to ensure prevention and control of COVID-19 and cross-infection control in air transport, thereby, allowing international tourists to enter Vietnam if they meet the requirements regarding the epidemic prevention and control, while also allowing foreign experts to come to Vietnam to work from the end of August to the beginning of September.

It can be seen that reopening the international flight routes is the most effective "medicine" to support the aviation and tourism industries and help revive the economy. The resumption of international routes will not only have a positive meaning on the expectation of recovering the aviation industry, but also brings revenue and creates cash flow for airlines in the current depletion context.

Passengers practice social distancing when checking in at Noi Bai international airport in Hanoi, April 2020. (Photo: Vietnam+)

Some countries have agreed to re-open flight routes to Vietnam and reaching consensus with the country on required testing and isolation for any entry. The Vietnamese Ministry of Transport has requested its functional agencies to review and complete a plan to reopen international routes to submit for evaluation from the relevant ministries and sectors.

The Government has taken a policy to consider reopening several international routes to countries where COVID-19 has been controlled. However, it is not easy task in the current context, as just a small mistake could lead to "importing” the pandemic to Vietnam or "transferring" it to other countries that may bring about a huge negative impact. The complicated developments of the pandemic in other countries also make people worried and do not want to travel, thus making the revenue and efficiency of aviation operation low and difficult to meet the expectation.

According to many economists, it is necessary to reopen international routes in the current circumstance, because the principle of survival for any country amid COVID-19 is disease control always comes with gradual economic revival. Relevant ministries and agencies have been recommended to coordinate with the relevant authorities to develop specific and detailed plans for international flight resumption to ensure strict epidemic control and bring about the highest efficiency.

At first, the Vietnamese aviation authorities have been instructed to be cautious and should only open one or two pilot international routes for comprehensive research and evaluation. This is also the time to test the capacity of quarantine facilities as well as the domestic health sector to know whether or not it is sufficient to meet the reception of international visitors when the sky is reopened. The National Steering Committee for COVID-19 Prevention and Control will decide the time to resume international routes and introduce the necessary related regulations, such as quarantine fee collection and epidemic control procedures for foreign tourists.