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EC warns travel health measures ‘here to stay for a long time’

Air travel in Europe won’t come back “with a bang” this summer and health issues are “here to stay” the European Commission has warned.

Henrik Hololei, EC director-general for mobility and transport (DG MOVE) gave notice that health restrictions could remain “for a very long time” despite airlines and airports demanding vaccination certificates and Covid-19 tests for travellers be required only as long as necessary.

Hololei also warned the days of expanding airport infrastructure may be over.

He told an Airport Economics Symposium: “Health issues are here to stay. Passenger confidence has to be restored. We have to reassure passengers at every step that it is safe, from the minute they step into the airport.

“This is going to stay with us. Health safety will be a component maybe for a very long time. Look at the security component after 9/11. It is not going away.”

He noted: “Things are improving but very slowly and I’m afraid there is not going to be a big bang [in traffic].

“[EU] member states are still varying [in their travel restrictions] despite EC recommendations and despite the EU Digital Covid Certificate.”

He warned of major congestion around Europe if there are issues validating the certificates which officially enter use from July 1.

Looking beyond the immediate restart, Hololei argued: “I am more worried than before about airport capacity. Aviation is elastic. It will bounce back in 2022-23 or 2024-25.

“We will face then the same issue of capacity. But it will be more difficult to expand airports, so the question will be efficiency.

“Financing is going to be available more and more only with strings attached on sustainability. It is going to be much tougher if not impossible to find finance for airport expansion. Sustainability is the big issue.”

Birgit Otto, chief operating officer at Amsterdam Schiphol, said “Capacity will be an issue if we come back to 2019 levels. But we can’t only handle this by digitisation. We also need infrastructure. We need government support or sustainability could suffer.”

Dublin Airport Authority chief executive Dalton Philips told the symposium: “We don’t have a balanced system at the moment, not least for our planet. Airlines are short-term by nature. Airports have to take a longer-term view.

“Airlines got more than 10 times the government support airports received, and we could have less traffic this year than in 2020 but rapid growth in operating costs as we start up.”

He suggested the passenger journey would “be terrific” as travel restarts as “airports have never been cleaner” and travellers returning for the first time in two years need not feel nervous.

But Philips warned: “It is going to be a poor experience in three to four years if airports don’t fix their balance sheets. No one will invest in sustainability. No one will invest in capacity and these issues are heading towards us like a train.”

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