Beleaguered carrier Cathay Pacific has welcomed a move to launch a Hong Kong-Singapore quarantine-free air travel bubble, expressing hope it will lead to similar moves elsewhere.
The move, announced jointly by the Hong Kong Tourism Board and the Singapore Tourism Board ahead of flights resuming November 22, was hailed as a milestone for the global tourism industry that demonstrated the close ties between the destinations.
Both destinations have already put in place city-wide certification programs for hygiene and safety.
In the case of Hong Kong, authorities say this involves a scheme that aims to ensure every touchpoint of a visitors’ journey is covered by anti-epidemic measures.
HKTB executive director Dane Cheng described the agreement as “a hugely important moment that shows the world that safe international travel is possible, and paves the way for us to bring tourist flights to and from other markets.”
Cathay needed some good news after being hit hard by the pandemic as passenger revenues shrunk to as little as 2-3 percent of pre-crisis levels, prompting a $HK39 billion recapitalization of the company.
In October, it announced it would cut 5900 staff and asked pilots and cabin crew to agree to reduced pay and conditions as part of a corporate restructuring.
This included axing subsidiary Cathay Dragon and retiring the Dragon brand.
Cathay Pacific chief customer and commercial officer Ronald Lam welcomed the easing of restrictions with Singapore and said the airline was excited to facilitate the two-way quarantine-free travel bubble.
“Cathay Pacific is all ready to fly passengers safely and securely between the two cities under the new arrangement,’’ he said.
“We believe that this will be a milestone showcase for the opening of more, similar air travel bubbles with other popular destinations in the region and beyond.”
The Airports Council International Asia-Pacific also welcomed the move, describing at as much needed progressive step towards the recovery of the sector.
“This first-of-a-kind arrangement is a leading example of a risk-based approach that balances the risk of virus transmission with the need to re-establish connectivity based on a robust multi-layered approach of measures for the safety of all,” said ACI Asia-Pacific director-general Stefano Baronci.
“We call upon governments in the region to take note and follow suit for the sake of the survival of the aviation industry.”
ACI has repeatedly called for the safe re-opening of borders without quarantine by using a coordinated approach to testing.
It wants authorities, in consultation with the industry, deciding on testing prior to departure or upon arrival and away or on airport premises.
“The expectation of increasingly performant rapid tests will facilitate the introduction of accurate, cost-effective and simplified testing available to large numbers of passengers,” said Baronci.
“We encourage governments to mutually recognize test results based on a commonly-accepted protocol, preferably based on pre-departure tests, thereby saving the passenger the ordeal of being subjected to multiple tests on a round trip.
“We further call on states to bear the cost of these health measures in accordance with the World Health Organizations’ international health regulations.”