Restoring confidence in flying will be crucial to restarting travel Iata has warned after research found four out of five air passengers fear an increased risk of coronavirus infection from flying.

Iata director general Alexandre de Juniac issued the warning, saying: “Confidence is critical.

“At the beginning of March, Iata research found about 60% of air travellers said they would return to travel within six months. By June, only 45% said they would return. So [safety] measures and communications are absolutely key.”

De Juniac reported Iata research also suggested “more than 80% of passengers believe there is risk of infection from flying – from queueing, from potential close proximity to infected people, from breathing on an aircraft”.

He said: “I can’t emphasise how critical passenger confidence is. We are working across the industry to send an aligned message.”

Speaking on a Hong Kong Tourism Board global online forum, de Juniac said: “Travel has collapsed. Partly people are not confident to travel, partly borders do not permit travel and even where borders are open, governments impose restrictions.

“Recovery will be slow and painful. We expect the intercontinental market to reopen [only] in the fourth quarter [of 2020].

“We expect traffic by the end of the year to be 50%-60% of 2019 levels [and] we will have a reduced number of airlines because some will go bankrupt.”

De Juniac insisted the implementation of International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) ‘Take off’ guidelines on air travel “must be universal”.

He said: “Governments must act fast and implement these measures to reduce the potential for contagion and to restore passenger confidence.”

De Juniac said removing quarantine restrictions and providing travel insurance would also be key.

He said: “Quarantine stops travel so there will not be a recovery in tourism, in business travel. We advocate strong processes to avoid quarantine measures.”

However, speaking later de Juniac acknowledged: “We fully understand that after taking severe pain in the lockdown phase, no country wants to import Covid-19.

“We are not suggesting governments with quarantine measures in place should simply open their borders.

“We are suggesting governments which assess the need for quarantine should consider a layering of measures, with two objectives – first, to prevent infected people from flying and, second, to prevent clusters in the case that an infected person does travel.”

De Juniac said: “Contact tracing will help with this and, while the costs of contact tracing are significant, they are far lower than the cost of keeping travel and tourism in lockdown.”

In addition, he said: “The availability of reasonably priced insurance will be an influence on the confidence to travel. People don’t want to risk the potential cost of treatment or of quarantine in a foreign country.”

He said the airline association was “examining ways to cooperate on this”.

De Juniac suggested Covid-19 testing of passengers before departure would soon be in place. He said: “Currently, testing passengers for Covid-19 is not ready, but it will be only a matter of weeks.

“When it is ready, it will be the best answer without a vaccine.”