Thursday, April 16, 2020

Air and Sea Interests Fret Over Plight of Stranded Seafarers and Call for Governmental Action

Meanwhile Airlines Face Up to an Ever Darkening Future
Shipping News Feature

WORLDWIDE – In our story earlier this week we told of the appeal from stakeholders in the shipping industry who pointed out to governments the current difficulties of seafarers, many stranded on their vessels and unable to return home due to the restrictions in place. Now support has come from those charged with enabling flights home in the form of an appeal from the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

The Association, which represents carriers charged with flying 82% of all global air traffic, together with the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), called on governments to take urgent measures to facilitate crew change flights for the 100,000 or so seafarers who normally transfer to and from vessels around the globe. IATA and ICS are working together to come forward with safe and pragmatic solutions that governments can implement to facilitate crew changes at certain airports. Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO, said:

“Airlines have been required to cut passenger services in the fight to stop the spread of Covid-19. But if Governments identify airports that seafarers can use for crew changes and make appropriate adjustments to current health and immigration protocols, airlines can help keep global logistics moving."

The call is for procedures to allow the transfer of crew from certain priority airports, all close to major sea ports and which also have direct air connections to principal seafarer countries of residence, such as China, India and the Philippines, as well as destinations in western and eastern Europe. ICS Secretary General, Guy Platten, commented:

“Seafarers are unsung heroes who everyday throughout this Covid-19 crisis are going above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that countries are kept supplied with the goods they need. We are working with the airlines to come forward with solutions. We now need governments to support our seafarers and facilitate safe passage for them to get home to loved ones and be replaced by crew members ready to keep supply chains open.”

ICS and IATA are calling on all governments to designate a specific and limited number of crew change airports for the safe movement and repatriation of crew. This would achieve critical mass for the resumption of crew change flights to these airports, keeping global supply chains open. Aviation and shipping companies face common challenges in carrying out crew changes while complying with immigration and quarantine restrictions introduced by most governments around the world.

As authorities continue to battle Covid-19, international transport personnel operating aircraft and ships, or transiting international borders for duty, are often affected by national restrictions designed for passengers and non-essential personnel. When applied to crew not interacting with local communities, these restrictions unnecessarily jeopardise the ability of airlines and shipping companies to keep global supply chains operating.

IATA and ICS say they are working with their global regulators, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO), on recommendations to governments for standardised procedures and protocols for positioning crews whilst preventing the further spread of Covid-19.

Shipping companies and airlines are cooperating to meet the G20 commitment to minimise disruption to global supply chains by ensuring that reliable operations continue throughout the pandemic. However, these networks will grind to a halt if replacement crews are unavailable for duty. Governments must take urgent action now to avoid further damage to the battered global economy.

Staying with IATA, it has released an updated analysis predicting that the Covid-19 crisis will see airline passenger revenues drop by $314 billion in 2020, a 55% decline compared to 2019. This is an uplift of the statistics following the 24 March IATA estimate of $252 billion in lost revenues (-44% vs. 2019) which was calculated on a scenario with severe travel restrictions lasting three months. The updated figures reflect a significant deepening of the crisis since then, and are based on the following parameters:

  • Severe domestic restrictions lasting three months
  • Some restrictions on international travel extending beyond the initial three months
  • Worldwide severe impact, including Africa and Latin America (which had a small presence of the disease and were expected to be less impacted in the March analysis)

These of course are figures based on estimates which could actually prove to be optimistic (or hopefully pessimistic) but, with IATA also predicting full year passenger demand to be down 48% as against 2019 due to a predicted world recession and continuing travel restrictions, Alexandre de Juniac is suitably morose in his analysis, saying:

“The industry’s outlook grows darker by the day. The scale of the crisis makes a sharp V-shaped recovery unlikely. Realistically, it will be a U-shaped recovery with domestic travel coming back faster than the international market. We could see more than half of passenger revenues disappear. That would be a $314 billion hit.

”Several governments have stepped up with new or expanded financial relief measures but the situation remains critical. Airlines could burn through $61 billion of cash reserves in the second quarter alone. That puts at risk 25 million jobs dependent on aviation. And without urgent relief, many airlines will not survive to lead the economic recovery.”

Photo: Aircraft are parked up at airports around the world. This shot from Ljubljana Joze Pucnik Airport.