Airline chiefs have hailed the news on vaccines and said they are ready to distribute vaccination doses worldwide, but they insist Covid testing remains the priority for restarting travel.

Lufthansa Group chief executive Carsten Spohr told Iata’s annual general meeting (AGM): “The industry is excited about the vaccines. Now governments turn to a different approach.

“There is a lot of light at the end of the tunnel. We see a new impetus to testing. Investors see now we will get back.”

KLM chief executive Pieter Elbers agreed, saying: “The news of the last two weeks puts some positive momentum back into the market.”

They insisted their airlines would be ready to transport vaccines around the world despite the scale of the operation.

Spohr said: “Some vaccines require extensive cooling. The industry has shown previously this can be done. We were preparing for this for weeks.

“This is about a joint effort, not competing. But to ensure every person would get one shot of a vaccine it will require 8,000 transport aircraft. That gives you an idea of the size of this.”

Iata director general Alexandre de Juniac told the AGM: “It is a major logistical challenge, but we think we are ready. It will be an honour to do it.”

However, they stressed the priority for the industry remains testing to remove quarantine restrictions.

Elbers said: “With more and more testing facilities now, we could move to the next step. We should not wait for the vaccine. We desperately need some European harmonisation on the rules.”

De Juniac agreed: “We had very good news on the vaccine, but it is a bit premature to say how it [vaccination] will be done. The requirement now is for testing.

“We need testing now and when the vaccine will be there. Testing is the key priority.”

Former IAG chief executive Willie Walsh, who will take over as Iata director general next April, was sharply critical of government responses to Covid.

He said: “The coronavirus did not stop us flying. The virus did not stop customers boarding our aircraft. They have been denied by a fragmented political response and by a failure to adopt measures that would have allowed our industry to continue.”

But Spohr insisted “We have seen the turning point” and noted: “For politicians, this was also a learning curve. “

De Juniac agreed, saying: “The proposal we made in September for common testing was very advanced and technology for a rapid affordable test was not readily available.

“It has become available. It is new technology so we have to convince governments, for which it is their first time also.”