Get the app today! Download iPhone App Download Android App

SUBSCRIBE

Hospitality Ireland Presents Round-Up Of Global Travel, Airline And Aviation News

Published on Dec 2 2021 11:00 AM in General Industry tagged: Trending Posts / Bord Bia / Ryanair / Boeing / Emirates / United airlines / Air France-KLM / Universal Hydrogen / Avianca / Safran / Zodiac

Hospitality Ireland Presents Round-Up Of Global Travel, Airline And Aviation News

Hospitality Ireland presents a round-up of global travel, airline and aviation news.

U.S. CDC to collect data on southern Africa passengers over COVID variant

U.S. officials ordered airlines to disclose passenger names and other information about those who have recently been in eight southern African countries and will give it to local and state public health agencies, according to documents seen by Reuters.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told airlines in a letter late Tuesday November 30 that they must turn over names and contact information for any travelers who within 14 days have been to Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, citing "the emergence of the Omicron variant of the virus that causes COVID-19".

"(The CDC) will provide the contact information of these passengers to jurisdictional state and local public health partners for public health follow-up. This follow-up may include recommendations for potential postarrival viral testing and quarantine and isolation," the agency told airlines.

Effective Nov. 8, the CDC required all airlines to collect contact tracing information from all international air passengers but had not required them to turn over those names.

The new directive, which took effect late Tuesday November 30 and was seen by Reuters, mandates airlines to turn over the information within 24 hours of passengers arriving in the United States who have been in one of the eight African countries.

The collected information includes full name, full address while in the United States, primary contact phone number, secondary or emergency contact phone number, and email address.

The United States effective Monday November 29 barred nearly all foreign nationals if they have been in one of the southern African countries.

Separately, the CDC confirmed late Tuesday it is moving to require that all air travelers entering the country show a negative COVID-19 test performed within one day of departure in response to concerns about a new coronavirus variant.

Currently, vaccinated international air travelers can present a negative test result obtained within three days from their point of departure. Nearly all foreign nationals must be vaccinated to enter the United States. The unvaccinated must now get a negative COVID-19 test within one day of arrival.

The new one-day testing requirement would apply equally to U.S. citizens as well as foreign nationals.

The Biden administration is also considering whether to require air travelers to get another COVID-19 test within three to five days after arrival in the United States, officials said.

The administration could require international passengers to submit an "attestation" that would also require them to follow all state and local public health orders.

United Airlines and Delta Air Lines DAL.N> have not made any changes to their direct flights from South Africa since the new travel restrictions took effect.

FACTBOX-Global Travel Curbs Triggered By Omicron

Air travellers to the United States will face tougher COVID-19 testing rules to try to slow the spread of the Omicron variant as other countries tighten border controls.

Following is a snapshot by region of major travel curbs reported by Reuters.

AMERICAS

BRAZIL will shut its borders to travellers arriving from six southern African countries, the chief of staff to President Jair Bolsonaro said.

CANADA is closing its borders to foreign travellers who have recently been to seven southern African nations.

CUBA will tighten restrictions from Dec. 4 on passengers from some African countries.

ECUADOR will impose entry restrictions on travellers flying from or via a number of African countries and will request vaccine certificates from those arriving from other countries. The UNITED STATES, which has barred nearly all foreign nationals who have been in one of eight southern African countries, issued a directive requiring airlines to disclose names and other information of passengers who have been there.

ASIA

AUSTRALIA has delayed by two weeks its plans to reopen its borders to skilled migrants and foreign students. Mandatory two-week quarantine has been enforced for citizens returning from southern African countries.

CAMBODIA has banned entry to travellers from 10 African countries.

The Chinese-ruled territory of HONG KONG will ban non-residents from entering the city from Japan, Portugal and Sweden, adding to a fast-expanding list of countries facing travel restrictions.

INDIA will make on-arrival COVID-19 testing mandatory for air travellers from more than a dozen countries, including South Africa and Britain.

JAPAN Airlines and ANA halted new reservations and the government widened a travel ban. Japan took some of the strictest steps globally on Nov. 29 by closing its borders to new foreign entrants for about a month.

MALAYSIA has temporarily banned the entry of travellers from countries that have reported the Omicron variant or are considered high-risk.

THAILAND said it would ban the entry of people travelling from eight African countries.

UZBEKISTAN said it would suspend flights with Hong Kong, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, Eswatini, Tanzania and South Africa from Dec. 3.

VIETNAM will suspend flights to and from seven African countries.

EUROPE

The EUROPEAN UNION needs daily reviews of its travel restrictions and rapid deployment of vaccine booster doses to limit entry and protect its citizens from the Omicron variant, the European Commission said.

Most EU countries have imposed travel bans for residents of South Africa AND surrounding countries.

Travellers to RUSSIA from countries with high risk of the Omicron variant will have to quarantine for two weeks.

The UNITED KINGDOM has barred entry to non-residents from 10 southern African states, and British and Irish residents arriving from those countries must quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days.

MIDDLE EAST

ISRAEL on Nov. 27 became the first country to shut its borders completely in response to Omicron, and said it would use counter-terrorism phone-tracking technology in order to contain the variant's spread. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the ban would last 14 days.

Airline Passengers Entering Denmark From Doha Or Dubai Must Take Mandatory COVID-19 Test - Danish Health Minister

Airline passengers arriving to Denmark from Doha or Dubai must take a mandatory COVID-19 test, a move aimed at delaying the spread of the new Omicron variant, Danish health minister Magnus Heunicke said on Wednesday December 1.

"People who land from Dubai and Doha must have a test before they leave the airport," Heunicke told a news briefing.

United Airlines CEO Says Omicron To Hit Near-Term Bookings - CNBC

United Airlines Holdings Inc Chief Executive Officer Scott Kirby said in an interview with CNBC on Wednesday December 1 that the Omicron coronavirus variant will have a near-term impact on bookings.

Global Airlines Prepare For Omicron Volatility, Agility Will Be Key

Global airlines are bracing for more volatility due to the Omicron coronavirus variant that could force them to juggle schedules and destinations at short notice and rely more on domestic markets where possible, analysts say.

Many travellers have already booked trips for the Christmas period, a peak season for airlines, but since news of the variant last week, there are growing industry concerns over a pause in future bookings and further delays to the already slow recovery in business travel.

On Wednesday December 1, United Airlines Chief Executive Officer Scott Kirby said the new variant will have a near-term impact on bookings.

Fitch Ratings has lowered its global passenger traffic forecasts for 2021 and 2022, saying the emergence of new variants like Omicron highlight the likelihood that conditions would remain volatile for airlines.

"It feels a little bit like we are back to where we were a year ago and that's not a great prospect for the industry and beyond," Deirdre Fulton, a partner at consultancy MIDAS Aviation, said at an industry webinar.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) called for a "more measured and evidence-based" response, saying "the costs of significantly restricted global air mobility affect all countries".

Airlines have been blaming a lack of consistent and stable health protocols as well as border restrictions for depressed international travel demand.

New protocols in the wake of the Omicron variant are expected to add to their headache.

The United States, for example, is moving to require that all air travellers entering the country show a negative COVID-19 test performed within one day of departure.

All non-EU travellers to mainland France, where the Omicron variant has not been detected yet, will have to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test, regardless of their vaccination status, a government spokesman said. Ireland and Portugal are also demanding that travellers produce a negative test.

Airlines are currently using a range of apps to verify test results. Delta Air Lines said it would comply with Washington's directives, but did not say if the new testing requirement would need the carrier to make any changes to its verification app.

Omicron's impact will vary by country and region due to each government's response and the diverse nature of global airlines, as well as their business models.

Japan Airlines and ANA Holdings on Wednesday suspended new reservations for international flights arriving into Japan until the end of December as the country tightens border controls.

Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific Airways, which lacks a domestic market and is operating at only 10% of pre-pandemic capacity, said it was too early to assess Omicron's impact on demand.

Airlines in countries with large, strong domestic markets like the United States, China and Russia are better shielded from the greater uncertainties of international travel.

An analysis by UBS shows U.S. carriers have not yet changed their scheduled capacity, which is running at 87% of 2019 levels in December and is expected to reach 92% of pre-COVID capacity in January.

United Airlines is launching its Newark-Cape Town route on Wednesday and Delta Air is expecting strong bookings over the Christmas period.

"In the past year, each new variant has brought a decline in bookings, but then an increase once the surge dissipates. We expect the same pattern to emerge," said Helane Becker, an analyst at Cowen and Co.

Travel booking website Kayak said international travel searches from the United States were down only 5% on Sunday - a stark contrast to a 26% fall in searches from Britain, which had tightened testing requirements for arrivals.

Major European airlines are far more dependent on international travel than their U.S. counterparts, placing them more at risk of fallout from the Omicron variant.

In Asia, countries like Australia, Japan, Singapore and Thailand had only begun to cautiously lift border restrictions in recent weeks and passenger numbers remained at fractions of pre-pandemic levels before the Omicron variant was discovered.

John Grant, chief analyst at travel data firm OAG, said moves by Japan and Australia to delay entry to some foreigners due to Omicron were "sad and frustrating" but the proportionate impact on travel was "relatively insignificant."

Airlines globally have been more agile about quickly adjusting their schedules and destinations during the pandemic and that is expected to continue, he said.

Air France-KLM Considers Cap Hike Delay As Omicron Disrupts Travel - Sources

Air France-KLM is considering delaying its planned capital increase because of tough travel restrictions imposed by governments to mitigate the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, two sources familiar with the company's plans told Reuters.

The French-Dutch carrier was hoping to raise at least €1 billion by the end of the year to shore up its heavily-indebted, pandemic-hit balance sheet and repay government aid, but this is now likely to be delayed, the two sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"The mathematics of it doesn't work. They need to sell a recovery story and that doesn't work with Omicron hovering," said one of the sources.

Air France-KLM declined to comment.

The United States, Japan, Hong Kong and a number of European countries are among those to have tightened borders and imposed new restrictions amid uncertainty around the virulence of the new variant and its ability to evade vaccine protection.

Shares in travel companies around the globe have plummeted since news of the variant emerged, with British Airways-owner IAG down almost 15% since Friday and Lufthansa and Air France-KLM down around 9%.

The airline already completed a 4 billion euro recapitalisation package in April which included state support and a 1.036 billion euros rights issue that doubled the French government's stake to 30%.

It had more than 10 billion euros of cash at hand at the end of September and can afford to delay the plan. Yet, it needs to reimburse state aid to lift a EU ban on merger and acquisition (M&A) deals, a source at the French government said.

Air France-KLM's chief executive Ben Smith said at the end of September the company was aiming to raise new funds "as soon as possible", without providing an exact date.

Government bailouts via perpetual instruments have pushed Air France's total debt to 10.2 billion euros, according to Refinitiv Eikon records, and the company has seen its borrowing costs spike over the past week.

"I would not be advising them to come to market anytime soon - market conditions are not ideal for any company at the moment, let alone an unrated travel firm," said a third source, from the banking sector.

Air France-KLM does not have a rating from any of the main credit ratings agencies and is therefore not eligible for European Central Bank corporate debt purchases.

Canada Bars Boeing From Fighter Race, Indicates Bid Hurt By Airliner Row

Canada on Wednesday December 1 excluded Boeing Co from a multi-billion-dollar race to supply 88 new fighter jets and indicated a previous clash between the U.S. company and a Canadian aircraft maker influenced the decision.

The move means only Lockheed Martin Corp and Sweden's Saab AB can compete. Ottawa says it intends to make a decision next year on a contract that could be worth up to C$19 billion ($14.8 billion).

Reuters reported the decision to bar Boeing's F-18 Super Hornet on Nov. 25, citing a defense source. The formal announcement came from the federal procurement ministry and did not mention Boeing.

Boeing said it was "disappointed and deeply concerned" by the announcement. "We are working with the U.S. and Canadian governments to better understand the decision and looking for the earliest date to request a debrief to then determine our path forward," it said in a statement without giving more details.

Defense analysts had expected Ottawa would exclude Saab's Gripen plane, given Canada and the United States only fly U.S. military jets. Unlike Canada, Sweden is not a member of NATO or NORAD, the North American defense organization.

Saab said in a statement that the Gripen had passed all aspects of the evaluation, including security and interoperability requirements.

Canada belongs to the consortium that developed Lockheed Martin's F-35 jet, which defense sources say is the preferred choice of the air force.

The procurement ministry made clear one reason for the decision was Boeing's formal complaint in 2017 to the U.S. Commerce Department that Ottawa was unfairly subsidizing a passenger jet made by Montreal-based rival Bombardier.

Canada responded by saying it would look less favorably on a bid from a company that had had a negative economic impact on Canada's interests.

The procurement ministry on Wednesday December 1 said proposals had been assessed on elements of capability, cost and economic benefits.

"The evaluation also included an assessment of economic impact," it added. A spokesman for Procurement Minister Filomena Tassi declined to comment.

The procurement ministry said it could now either decide which bidder offered the best plane or offer Lockheed Martin and Saab a chance to improve their proposals.

Lockheed Martin said, "As a cornerstone for interoperability with NORAD and NATO, the F-35 will strengthen Canada’s operational capability with our allies."

Universal Hydrogen CEO Sees Jetmakers Backing New Fuel

Airbus and Boeing Co will launch all-new successors to their best-selling single-aisle jets powered by hydrogen from around the middle of next decade, the head of a U.S. company that champions the fuel told Reuters.

The prediction by Paul Eremenko, chief executive of Universal Hydrogen, counters assertions by Boeing that it is too early to think about hydrogen for a future 737 successor, while Airbus strongly backs hydrogen but initially for smaller planes.

Eremenko, who spoke as part of the Reuters Next conference, is a former chief technology officer for Airbus and United Technologies, now part of Raytheon Technologies.

He co-founded Universal Hydrogen last year with plans to speed up the introduction of hydrogen, initially for 40-60-seat regional airplanes, based on fuel cells.

But Eremenko has also set his sights on breaking in to the busiest part of the aviation market, the 150-seat-plus single-aisles dominated by the Boeing 737 MAX and Airbus A320neo.

"I think there will be a new airplane in that class from both aircraft manufacturers probably around the mid-2030s, which means they would need to make a decision on that by the late 2020s," Eremenko said.

"We want to make sure that the decision is to make that a hydrogen airplane."

Boeing appears to have ruled that out. It said in July that hydrogen has a future but that significant hurdles must be overcome before it is widely used. It said sustainable aviation fuel offers the quickest and most effective potential.

"Irrespective of the rhetoric that we hear today on this subject, I think by the time this is in service in the regional market ... in 2025 the tenor of the conversation is going to fundamentally change," Eremenko said.

"When it is visibly in commercial service ... I think it will be uncontroversial and irrefutable that the next generation single-aisle has to be a hydrogen airplane in the 2030s."

Experts say the high cost of hydrogen, challenges of storing and super-cooling the gas and building a reliable and widespread supply system, as well as certification, must all be addressed.

Eremenko said Universal Hydrogen is in discussions with U.S. regulators to show hydrogen is safe.

Hydrogen-powered airplane flight is not new. The predecessor to America's NASA flew a modified bomber with one engine running on hydrogen in 1957. The Soviet Union flew a hydrogen-powered TU-155 airliner in 1988, again replacing kerosene in one engine.

"There is no real fundamental science to be done; there is no fundamental invention," Eremenko said. "It is engineering, hard engineering, and a lot of engineering will need to happen over the next decade to make this possible."

While Universal Hydrogen is looking at replacing turboprop engines on regional aircraft with retrofittable electrical ones powered by a hydrogen-based fuel cell, it aims to focus purely on supplying hydrogen if it penetrates the single-aisle market.

French-U.S. engine venture CFM , the biggest supplier of gas turbines for the single-aisle market, in June unveiled a radical open-bladed design capable of burning convention fuel or hydrogen from the mid-2030s.

Eremenko acknowledged a standoff over infrastructure for green hydrogen produced using renewable energy.

"Until you have a hydrogen airplane nobody is going to invest in the infrastructure and unless there is infrastructure the Boeings and Airbuses of this world aren't going to build a hydrogen airplane," he said.

Universal Hydrogen plans to test-fly a hydrogen-powered regional airplane next year, "hopefully well before the end of the year," Eremenko added.

British-American firm ZeroAvia said in October it would team up with MHI RJ Aviation Group to cooperate in developing hydrogen-electric propulsion for regional jets.

Colombian Airline Avianca Says It Has Completed Its Bankruptcy Process

Colombian airline Avianca said on Wednesday December 1 it has successfully completed its Chapter 11 bankruptcy process, a month after a U.S. court approved its reorganization process.

"Today the prior conditions have been completed," the airline said in a statement from Bogota. Avianca "has emerged successfully from said process."

Avianca, along with rival Chile's LATAM Airlines, were the two largest carriers in the region before the coronavirus pandemic, but both were sent into bankruptcy restructuring when the virus upended air travel, amid especially strict restrictions in Latin America.

Avianca had already posted several years of losses before the pandemic began, and went through a boardroom coup in 2019 led by United Airlines.

The Southern District of New York approved the company's reorganization plan in early November, a day before Avianca announced it will move its domicile to Britain and its stock will no longer be traded on the Colombian stock exchange.

Once its principle domicile is established in Britain, the company will be known as Avianca Group International Ltd. Its current shareholders will not receive any payout or be included as shareholders in Avianca Group, the airline has said.

Omicron Rapidly Dominating In South Africa; U.S. Reports First Case

Heavily mutated Omicron is rapidly becoming the dominant variant of the coronavirus in South Africa less than four weeks after it was first detected there, and the United States on Wednesday December 1 became the latest country to identify an Omicron case within its borders.

The first known U.S. case  was a fully vaccinated person in California who returned to the United States from South Africa on Nov. 22 and tested positive seven days later.

The person had mild symptoms and was in self-quarantine, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease official, told reporters at the White House.

Late on Tuesday November 30, airlines in the United States were told to hand over the names of passengers arriving from parts of southern Africa hit by Omicron, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention letter seen by Reuters.

Key questions remain about the new variant, which has been found in two dozen countries, including Spain, Canada, Britain, Austria and Portugal. The UAE reported its first case on Wednesday, the second Gulf country after Saudi Arabia.

Early indications suggesting Omicron may be markedly more contagious than previous variants have rattled financial markets, fearful that new restrictions could choke off a tentative recovery from the economic ravages of the pandemic.

South Africa's National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said early epidemiological data suggested Omicron was able to evade some immunity, but existing vaccines should still protect against severe disease and death.

It said 74% of all the virus genomes it had sequenced last month had been of the new variant, which was first found in a sample taken on Nov. 8 in Gauteng, South Africa's most populous province.

The number of new cases reported in South Africa doubled from Tuesday to Wednesday.

World Health Organization (WHO) epidemiologist Maria van Kerkhove told a briefing that data on how contagious Omicron was should be available "within days."

BioNTech's CEO said the vaccine it makes in a partnership with Pfizer was likely to offer strong protection against severe disease from Omicron.

The president of the European Union's executive body said there was a "race against time" to stave off the new variant while scientists establish how dangerous it is. The EU brought forward the start of its vaccine rollout for 5-to-11-year-olds by a week to Dec. 13.

"Prepare for the worst, hope for the best," Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, told a news conference.

She said that full vaccination and a booster shot provided the strongest possible protection, according to scientists - a view echoed by Fauci.

But WHO emergencies director Mike Ryan criticized developed countries pushing booster shots for large parts of their fully vaccinated populations when vulnerable people in many poorer regions have had no vaccination at all.

"There is no evidence that I'm aware of that will suggest that boosting the entire population is going to necessarily provide any greater protection for otherwise healthy individuals against hospitalization or death," he said.

Britain and the United States have both expanded their booster programs in response to the new variant.

The WHO has noted many times that the coronavirus will keep producing new variants for as long as it is allowed to circulate freely in large unvaccinated populations.

Some 56 countries were reportedly implementing travel measures to guard against Omicron as of Nov. 28, the WHO said.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres slammed what he called "travel apartheid."

"Blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods," the WHO said, while advising those who were unwell, at risk, or 60 years and over and unvaccinated to postpone travel.

The United States has barred nearly all foreigners who have been in one of eight southern African countries.

Hong Kong added Japan, Portugal and Sweden to its travel restrictions. Malaysia temporarily barred travelers from eight African countries and said Britain and the Netherlands could join the list.

Fitch Ratings said it lowered its global air passenger traffic forecasts for 2021 and 2022.

"It feels a little bit like we are back to where we were a year ago," said Deidre Fulton, a partner at consultancy MIDAS Aviation, at an industry webinar. "And that's not a great prospect for the industry and beyond."

Wall Street's major averages fell more than 1% on Wednesday December 1, erasing morning gains, on investor angst over the first U.S. case, along with concerns about inflation. Crude oil prices also fell.

Fauci said it could take two weeks or more to gain insight into how easily the variant spreads from person to person, how severe the disease is that it causes, and whether it can bypass the protections provided by the vaccines currently available.

"We don't have enough information right now," said Fauci, adding that the variant's molecular profile "suggests that it might be more transmissible, and that it might elude some of the protection of vaccines. ... We have to be prepared that there's going to be a diminution in protection."

U.S. To Extend Transit Mask Mandate Through Mid-March - Sources

President Joe Biden's administration will extend requirements for travelers to wear masks on airplanes, trains and buses and at airports and train stations through mid-March, sources briefed on the matter told Reuters, amid concerns about a new COVID-19 variant.

A formal announcement extending the requirements through March 18 is expected on Thursday December 2, the sources said. The White House and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) declined to comment. The TSA in August extended the transportation mask order through Jan. 18.

Biden plans to discuss the U.S. strategy for fighting COVID-19 this winter on Thursday and the transit mask extension is expected to be part of his remarks.

The White House also plans to announce stricter testing rules for international visitors. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed late on Tuesday it is working to impose stricter COVID-19 testing rules for air travelers entering the United States amid concerns about the Omicron variant.

The first known U.S. case of the Omicron variant was confirmed on Wednesday - a fully vaccinated person in California who returned to the United States from South Africa on Nov. 22 and tested positive seven days later.

On Monday November 29, the United States barred most foreign nationals who have been in eight southern African countries. The CDC told airlines late on Tuesday November 30 it would require them to turn over passenger contact information for all travellers who have been in those countries - and will forward that to state and public health agencies.

The current CDC order, which has been in place since soon after Biden took office in January, requires masks to be worn by all travellers on airplanes, ships, trains, subways, buses, taxis and ride-shares and at transportation hubs such as airports, bus or ferry terminals, train and subway stations, and seaports.

His predecessor, Donald Trump, rejected requests from U.S. public health agencies to impose the requirements in transit - even though airlines and some other transportation modes had required masks.

Government agencies briefed industry officials about the change late on Wednesday December 1, sources told Reuters.

The mask requirements have been the source of friction, especially aboard U.S. airlines, where some travellers have refused to wear masks.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which has instituted a "zero tolerance" enforcement effort on unruly passengers, said on Tuesday November 30 that since Jan. 1, it had received reports from airlines of 3,923 passengers refusing to wear masks.

In some U.S. states, transportation hubs are among the only places where masks are still required.

The White House has been debating a number of changes to strengthen international testing.

Currently, vaccinated international air travellers can present a negative test result obtained within three days from their point of departure. Nearly all foreign nationals must be vaccinated to enter the United States. Unvaccinated travellers currently must get a negative COVID-19 test within one day of arrival.

The CDC plans to announce a new one-day testing requirement that would apply equally to U.S. citizens as well as foreign nationals and could take effect as early as next week.

Japan Asks Airlines To Accommodate Needs Of Returning Japanese

Japan's transport ministry has cancelled its blanket ban on accepting new reservations for inbound flights and asked airlines to accommodate the needs of returning Japanese, the government spokesperson said on Thursday December 2.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno added that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida had asked the transport ministry to be mindful of returning Japanese given the confusion a suspension of new bookings installed on Wednesday December 1 had caused.

Japan Drops Ban On Inbound Flight Bookings After Confusion

Japan on Thursday December 2 reversed a ban on inbound flight reservations, revealing confusion between government agencies and the public over Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's strategy to keep out the Omicron coronavirus variant.

On Monday November 29, Japan's aviation bureau told airlines not to accept new reservations for December because of Omicron, two cases of which have been found in the country, but the abrupt announcement provoked worries among those aiming to return for year-end holidays.

Kishida said the move caused confusion, and Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno added that the prime minister had asked the transport ministry, which oversees the airline industry, to keep in mind the needs of returning Japanese.

"I understand the transport ministry has cancelled its instruction for the blanket suspension of new reservations and asked airlines anew to give sufficient consideration to the needs of returning Japanese nationals," Matsuno told a regular news conference.

Airlines may take new reservations as long as the number of arrivals stays below a daily limit of 3,500, down from last month's figure of 5,000, a transport ministry official said.

On Monday November 29, Kishida banned new foreign entrants to Japan, unwinding border opening measures that started last month. Later, the ban widened to foreign residents of Japan arriving from 10 nations in Africa, where Omicron was first identified.

The curbs on new flight reservations came to light on Wednesday December 1.

On Thursday December 2, transport minister Tetsuo Saito told reporters the aviation bureau had "responded speedily from the standpoint of emergency and prevention".

Later on Thursday December 2, in a further tightening of rules, the Nikkei reported that the issuance of visas for special purposes, such as for athletes and musicians, was being temporarily suspended.

Earlier, the Japan Skating Federation said the prestigious figure skating Grand Prix final, a step on the road to the Winter Olympics that was scheduled for next week in the western city of Osaka, had been cancelled.

Emirates Boss Sees Airline's Future In Aviation Hub Model

Emirates President Tim Clark sees its aviation hub business model as central to the airline's future despite the damage the COVID-19 pandemic has wrought upon parts of the travel industry.

As one of the world's biggest long-haul carriers, Emirates has over the past 35 years transformed Dubai into a major gateway for international travellers and a tourism hub.

Global demand remains "hugely resilient" despite the pandemic and such crises can increase market segmentation as happened in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis and the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001, Clark said.

"That's probably not what people are saying out there. But I can tell you that is the fact for Emirates. It's so, each time we have a global trauma, it creates new segments for us," he said in an interview for the Reuters Next.

"And this includes the corporate segments, which everybody says that are over now ... We have never shared that view."

Clark said he expected Emirates to continue with the hub model and for it to grow "at pace beyond the pandemic".

"Well, you could never say never. But as long as I'm here, that's not going to happen (rethinking the model)," he said.

"It gives enormous economic power to the countries and they benefit from that from the private sector to the state which takes its share of the cake through the taxation regimes that are imposed," Clark added.

The aviation industry was hoping to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic after intensive vaccination campaigns in developed countries, but the new Omicron variant has clouded hopes of recovery as it threatens the December travel season.

Clark said Emirates was working on the basis that the new variant could be dealt with effectively by vaccines, but added that the next few weeks would prove critical.

"We are in what I would call the uptick mode, but...there could be various concerns coming up at any time, and we need to adjust our schedules accordingly," he said.

Emirates was planning to deploy a further 60 A380s in response to improving demand, on top of the 47 in operation, but Clark said those plans would depend on the new variant.

Emirates is the largest customer of the Airbus A380 superjumbo, whose production is ending due to low sales.

"The 380s have driven the profitability of Emirates since they came," Clark said, describing them as "astronomically" good for an airport.

He said while the airline community had been deeply traumatised and adopted a risk-averse approach to aircraft acquisitions, dropping large aircraft would "inhibit the ability of airports" by reducing the flow of travellers. "The most important thing to do is resolve the cash situation going forward. So that means offloading the debt they (airlines) have taken and strengthen the balance sheets," he said.

Governments have pumped billions of dollars into airlines during the coronavirus pandemic and state-owned Emirates has received around $3.8 billion in equity injections from Dubai, including $2 billion disclosed last year.

Clark said he does not expect further government support over the next year so long as the new variant does not cause too much disruption.

Ryanair Optimistic About Summer Despite Omicron

Ryanair DAC CEO Eddie Wilson said on Thursday December 2 the airline was still optimistic about summer demand despite COVID-19 and the emergence of the Omicron virus variant making for a challenging time at Christmas.

Britain announced new measures on Saturday November 27 to try to slow the spread of the new variant, including a requirement that arrivals from all countries would have to self-isolate until receiving a negative COVID result from a PCR test.

"We were hoping that the demand curve would really get going in January once we got through Christmas but then that had been sort of T-boned by the travel restrictions but we’re still optimistic about next summer, we can see it in terms of pent-up demand," Wilson told the World Aviation Festival in London.

Earlier on Tuesday November 30, Ryanair reported a November load factor of 86%, carrying 10.2 million passengers.

"It’s going to be challenging for Christmas because it’s not necessarily going to be price led because people will feel the pressure not to travel for their own personal reasons," said Wilson.

He said he did not expect the government to lift restrictions before Christmas.

"Our focus is really on next summer," he added.

Rival easyJet said on Tuesday November 30 it had seen some softening of trading in the first quarter following COVID outbreaks including the Omicron variant, but remained well placed to handle uncertainty through its financial year.

U.S., Germany Plan New Restrictions As Omicron Rattles Investors

The United States and Germany joined countries around the globe planning stricter COVID-19 restrictions on Thursday as the new Omicron variant rattled markets, fearful it could choke a tentative economic recovery from the pandemic.

Much remains unknown about Omicron, which was first found on Nov. 8 in South Africa and has spread to at least two dozen countries, just as parts of Europe are suffering a surge in infections of the better-known Delta variant as winter sets in.

But South Africa said on Thursday December 1 it was seeing an increase in COVID-19 reinfections in patients contracting Omicron in a way that it did not experience with previous variants.

"Previous infection used to protect against Delta but now with Omicron that doesn't seem to be the case," said Professor Anne von Gottberg during an online briefing organised by the World Health Organization.

Omicron could become the dominant COVID-19 variant in France by the end of January, the country's top scientific adviser said on Thursday, after both France and the United States reported their first cases.

In Germany, outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel and her successor, Olaf Scholz, will discuss with regional leaders restricting the unvaccinated from access to all but the most essential businesses, such as grocery stores and pharmacies.

Eager to avoid lockdowns that could derail a fragile recovery of Europe's biggest economy, they are expected to keep businesses open to the almost 69% of the population that are fully vaccinated as well as those who have recovered from the coronavirus.

In the United States, steps to fight COVID-19 this winter are set to be unveiled later on Thursday, and sources briefed on the matter told Reuters one step would be extending requirements for travellers to wear masks through mid-March.

By early next week the United States will require inbound international travellers to be tested for COVID-19 within a day of departure, regardless of vaccination status.

And it will also require private health insurance companies to reimburse customers for the cost of over-the-counter at-home COVID-19 tests, which will benefit some 150 million Americans who have private health insurance, a senior administration official told reporters.

The first known U.S. case was a fully vaccinated person in California who returned to the United States from South Africa on Nov. 22 and tested positive seven days later. The French case, in the greater Paris region, was a passenger arriving from Nigeria.

French government adviser Jean-Francois Delfraissy told BFM television the "true enemy" for now was still the Delta variant, spreading in a fifth wave.

"We should see a progressive rise of the Omicron variant, which will take over from Delta," possibly by the end of January, he said.

The French Omicron infection followed a case found in the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion last month.

BioNTech's CEO said the vaccine it makes in a partnership with Pfizer was likely to offer strong protection against severe disease from Omicron.

And GlaxoSmithKline said that a lab analysis of the antibody-based COVID-19 therapy it is developing with U.S. partner Vir had shown the drug is effective against the Omicron variant.

This contrasts with Regeneron's study of its COVID-19 antibody drug, which it said could be less effective against Omicron. Moderna's top boss raised similar concerns about the company's vaccine.

Indications suggesting Omicron may be markedly more contagious than previous variants have rattled financial markets, fearful that new restrictions could choke a tentative recovery from the economic impact of the pandemic.

European shares fell on Thursday December 1, tracking a slide in U.S. equities overnight due to fears around the Omicron coronavirus variant and the possibility of sooner-than-expected interest rate hikes.

The continent-wide STOXX 600 .STOXX was down 0.9% in morning trade, after falling as much as 1.3% in the session. The move marks a sharp reversal of gains on Wednesday.

OPEC+ ministers are likely to discuss pausing a planned oil output hike in January during ministerial talks on Thursday, an OPEC+ source said, amid uncertainty about the impact of the pandemic on global crude demand.

About 56 countries were reportedly implementing travel measures to guard against Omicron as of Nov. 28, the WHO said.

The United States has barred nearly all foreigners who have been in one of eight southern African countries.

Japan reversed a ban on new inbound flight reservations, revealing confusion between government agencies and the public over the country's COVID strategy.

The European Union brought forward the start of its vaccine rollout for 5-to-11-year-olds to Dec. 13, as the president of the European Union's executive body said there was a "race against time" to stave off the new variant.

The WHO is deploying a surge team to South Africa's Gauteng province, epicentre of the Omicron outbreak, to help with surveillance and contact tracing, it said on Thursday December 1.

More than 263.1 million people have been reported to be infected by the coronavirus globally since the first cases were identified in China in December 2019 and 5,480,116​ have died, according to a Reuters tally.

Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open in an external browser. nEiko users can click for a case tracker.

Dutch Say Pre-Flight Tests Needed As Most COVID Passengers From S.Africa Were Vaccinated

Dutch health authorities called for pre-flight COVID-19 tests regardless of vaccination status for travel from outside the European Union, revealing that about 90% of the 62 people who tested positive on two flights from South Africa on Nov. 26 had been vaccinated.

Under rules in place at the time, more than 600 passengers were able to board the KLM airline flights from Johannesburg and Cape Town with either proof of vaccination or recent negative COVID-19 test results.

A spokesman for the health authority for Kennemerland, in which Schiphol airport is situated, said "around 90%" of those that tested positive had been vaccinated. KLM did not keep track of how individual passengers had met their preflight health requirements.

"By a combination of requiring tests before departure ... and retesting five days after arrival, and knowing what happened, you can make flight safer," said Jaap van Dissel, the head of infectious diseases at the Dutch Institute for Health (RIVM), in testimony to parliament on Wednesday. He also recommended quarantine for travellers from high-risk areas.

The RIVM's advice, not yet adopted by the Dutch government, is that only a PCR test taken 48 hours before arrival in the Netherlands be accepted, and that it be required regardless of vaccination status.

Countries around the world are sharpening flight rules after the discovery of the Omicron variant of the virus, dubbed a "variant of concern" by the World Health Organization, due to worries it could resist vaccinations and prolong the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Dutch government has said it is considering the RIVM's reommendations but it wants any decision to be made at the EU level. France, Portugal and Ireland have already adopted similar policies.

Health authorities in Kennemerland also said on Thursday December 2 they were releasing more than half of the infected passengers, who had been kept in isolation at a hotel near the airport, after subsequent tests showed they were no longer carrying the virus.

The authorities did not say whether any of the 14 passengers that were found to be infected with the Omicron variant of the virus were being released, citing privacy reasons.

"Persons that tested positive (a second time) will remain in isolation. Their situation varies ... some have symptoms, others don't or barely," Kennemerland health director Bert van Velden said.

Safran Stands Firm On Jet output, Reviews Part Of Zodiac

Jet engine maker Safran said the worst of the coronavirus crisis was over but took a cautious view on long-term airline traffic in a continuing stand-off with Airbus over proposed increases in jetliner production.

The French aeronautics supplier also placed almost a third of its recently acquired Zodiac Aerospace business under review, while targeting higher revenues and margins over five years.

CEO Olivier Andries said Safran remained committed to building enough engines to allow Airbus to meet a firm output target of 65 A320s a month in 2023, up some 50% from crisis-hit levels, but that it was too early to commit to more.

Airbus has asked suppliers to explore rates as high as 75 a month by 2025 based on its forecasts of strong demand for the sought-after medium-haul category as the pandemic eases.

A decision on this would need to be made by mid-2022.

Engine makers are cautious about joining planemakers, notably the current volume leader Airbus, in raising new output because they fear it will accelerate aircraft retirements and dampen lucrative repairs demand demand, or else be short-lived.

Safran co-produces engines for the single-aisle category with General Electric through their joint venture CFM, which according to Safran has 72% of the market against rival Pratt & Whitney, owned by Raytheon Technologies.

Andries said Safran sees air traffic demand growth in the medium-haul sector for A320s and Boeing 737s rebounding to 4.9% a year on average between 2023 and 2025.

But 20-year annual growth for all traffic combined, of which medium-haul has the biggest chunk, would average 2.9% compared with forecasts from Airbus and Boeing at or close to 4%.

"We have a (demand) vision which is more prudent than the planemakers," Andries said, adding "3% is not nothing, it is very significant and will stay above world GDP."

Safran did not rule out targeted acquisitions where they make sense while considering shedding some ex-Zodiac activities.

Safran agreed to buy Zodiac in 2017 to create the world's third largest aerospace supplier after cutting its offer following a string of profit warnings from the aircraft seat maker, and completed the deal the following year.

Safran said ahead of an investor presentation on Thursday that a re-assessment of the legacy Zodiac business had led to 70% of the business "confirmed as core and 30% under review."

Safran declined to identify the activities under review, but recently-appointed CFO Pascal Bantegnie said weakly defended or least profitable activities might be sold.

The renamed Safran Seats and Safran Cabin businesses, part of the company's Aircraft Interiors division, are both set to reach breakeven in 2022 and double-digit profitability by 2025 and "take advantage of the recovery of a severely hit market".

Safran also outlined group targets for 2021-2025 including compound average growth of 10% or more in revenues and around 15% in the widely watched aftermarket for civil jet engines.

It forecast an operating margin of 16-18% by 2025 and said it would return to a 40% dividend payout for its 2022 finances.

News by Reuters, edited by Hospitality Ireland. Click subscribe to sign up for the Hospitality Ireland print edition.

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn Share via Email