Major airline groups want to know that governments have a strategy to reopen the border as the pandemic subsides.
Airlines in Canada and the United States are calling on governments on both sides of the border to detail a strategy to reopen the border between the two countries.
The National Airlines Council of Canada and Airlines for America made the call in a letter released Friday. Together, the associations represent the continent’s largest carriers.
“We are writing to urge the federal government to work with industry to swiftly lay out a clear plan for the safe restart of transborder air travel,” wrote Mike McNaney of the NACC and Nick Calio of A4A.
Governments closed the border as an early measure in the pandemic, initially for just a few months. They have extended the closure month-by-month ever since.
Panel recommends an easing of border restrictions
The airlines want a plan based on a recent report by an expert panel advising Canada’s Health ministry. That panel recommended an easing of Canada’s border measures, which are among the toughest in the world.
From the pandemic’s earliest days, Canada closed the border to most non-citizens. It also restricted the number of airports where international flights could land and imposed testing requirements and a two-week quarantine on international arrivals.
The expert panel recommends a softening of that approach. It would eventually do away with quarantined for fully vaccinated passengers.
“We believe a science and data-based approach will provide for the safe restart of transborder air travel,” the associations wrote. “As vaccination rates increase exponentially in both countries, and provincial governments release their restart plans, now is the time for the federal government to engage immediately with airlines to deliver a clear roadmap and timeline to reopen the air border. We believe this work should be completed and announced before June 21, when the existing Canadian border measures are set to potentially be renewed.”
In Canada, as of June 2, 2021, 59% of the population received at least one dose of the vaccine and four per cent had been fully vaccinated, the NACC estimated. A smaller percentage received a first dose in the U.S., but 40% were fully vaccinated.
Those rates are enough to warrant planning to reopen the border, the airlines argue.
Safely reopening the border essential for pandemic recovery
Before the pandemic, the Canada-U.S. border was among the busiest in the world, according to data compiled by OAG. That traffic allowed Air Canada to build Toronto into one of the most internationally connected airports on the continent.
The countries are part of a continent-wide free trade agreement. And airlines say it’s important for both countries to get traffic moving again.
“Safely reopening transborder air travel between Canada and the U.S. is essential for both nation’s economic recovery from the pandemic,” they wrote. “Canada and the U.S. have one of the largest and most comprehensive investment relationships in the world. Air travel is a critical enabler of trade between our countries that was worth $718 billion USD in 2019, including the transport of 408,000 tons of high value-added freight and mail (1,117 tons per day).”
The airlines point to the United Kingdom, which released its border reopening plan a month ago. It includes a system ranking countries either green, amber or red. Non-subjects flying from countries on the red list are generally denied entry. People arriving from countries on the amber list – including Canada – have to quarantine on arrival and test negative. Those arriving from countries on the green list must take a COVID test, but don’t need to quarantine.
“We ask that you and your team engage immediately with the airline industry to create a plan,” the airlines conclude, “that will clearly spell out how and when we will restart air travel between Canada and the U.S., with the objective of releasing the plan prior to June 21.”
That is the date the latest Canada-U.S. border closure expires.
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