The head of the association representing Europe’s major carriers has accused European governments of imposing “crazy” restrictions on travel “for populist reasons”.

Airlines for Europe (A4E) managing director Thomas Reynaert hit out at the continuing restrictions on travel across Europe after airline bodies worked with the EU, aviation and health authorities to produce protocols for the safe resumption of travel in the summer.

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) produced joint guidelines for airports and airlines in May.

The EC subsequently recommended the relaxation of internal EU border restrictions and earlier this month the European Council agreed common criteria for applying quarantine restrictions and urged coordination of measures.

However, the Council noted “restrictions to protect public health remain the responsibility of member states”.

Speaking on a Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) European Town Hall virtual meeting, Reynaert said: “We’re talking about a public health issue where the EU has limited competence.

“We worked closed with the EC, EASA and Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, but these [protocols and guidelines] are just recommendations.”

When the protocols were issued in the summer, he said: “We were quite confident. Then it goes to government health ministers and they pick and choose what they like.

“We had a harmonised health solution and then national governments go crazy for populist reasons.

“I fully understand national governments will do what they think best for their population. The challenge is how do you convince 27 or 28 national governments to come together jointly?”

Reynaert warned: “Europe’s airlines have about six months’ cash to burn.”

He said: “There is 55% less air traffic, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. It is just flights. Passenger traffic is 75%-80% less than last year.

“The first quarter of next year does not look much better. The biggest problem is lack of consumer confidence to travel. The situation improved a little in July, but since August it has deteriorated.

“The obvious thing is to have coordinated travel restrictions and announce them [changes to restrictions] in time.

“[But] as long as we can’t convince European health authorities that we don’t need quarantines – that we can have tests for travel, antigen tests, rapid tests – then we [will] have quarantine.”

Reynaert suggested: “We need to come up with the scientific evidence that antigen tests are better than other tests available [and] convince health authorities to get rid of quarantines.”

A4E represents carriers including Ryanair, easyJet, Air France-KLM, the Lufthansa Group and British Airways and Iberia owner IAG.

Airline association Iata has argued for a global system of antigen testing for travellers pre-departure as antigen tests are faster and cheaper than other forms of test.

However, studies suggest antigen tests are less sensitive to detecting Covid-19 infection than the PCR tests which most governments and health authorities currently rely on.