The International Air Transport Association (Iata) is urging governments to tackle the problem of expensive Covid-19 tests which could threaten the recovery of travel.

An Iata survey of costs for PCR tests – most frequently required by governments – showed wide variations in prices across 16 countries.

Only France has complied with the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendation for the state to bear the cost of testing for travellers.

In the other 15 markets, the average minimum cost for testing was $90 and the average maximum cost for testing was $208.

Before the pandemic, the average one-way airline ticket cost $200, including taxes and charges.

A $90 PCR test raises the cost by 45% to $290. Another test on arrival takes the one-way cost to $380.

Assuming that two tests are needed in each direction, the average cost for an individual return trip could reach $760.

Willie Walsh, Iata’s director general, said: “As travel restrictions are lifted in domestic markets, we are seeing strong demand. The same can be expected in international markets.

“But that could be perilously compromised by testing costs – particularly PCR testing.

“The impact will be greatest for short-haul trips, up to 1,100km. With average fares of $105, the tests will cost more than the flight.

“Testing costs must be better managed. That’s critical if governments want to save tourism and transport jobs; and avoid limiting travel freedoms to the wealthy.”

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Iata’s warning about the cost of tests comes as the association released figures for passenger traffic in March.

Numbers remain down compared to 2019 but increased when compared to February 2021.

Total demand for air travel in March 2021 – measured in revenue passenger kilometres – was down 67% compared to March 2019.

That was an improvement over the 75% decline recorded in February 2021 compared to February 2019.

International passenger demand in March was 88% below March 2019, a very small improvement from the 89% decline recorded in February 2021.

European carriers recorded an 88% decline in traffic in March versus March 2019, slightly better than the 89% decline in February compared to the same month in 2019.