Reestablish Transatlantic Relationships: the Case for Air Travel With Open Skies

Source: BBC

The U.S. intends to exit the Open Skies treaty. It is a 34-nation agreement allowing the U.S., Russia, and other countries to fly their aircraft over each other’s territory — increasing transparency and reducing the chances for perilous miscalculations.

Transatlantic relations are an important factor to world peace, founded on history, values, trade, culture, and personal relationships. As Joe Biden takes the reins of the new administration, he will make a point to assess the damage that his predecessor caused created over the past four years: insults to European leaders, withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change and other Treaties such as Iran and nuclear dissemination, lining up with the most autocratic regimes, and attacks against the most important peace initiative, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

However, Trump has done something irreparable: he has broken previous Treaties and Agreements that, under international law, could not be broken without consensus between the parties. How could the United States pretend that they will always respect their signatures? UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson did the same for Ireland.

Restoring above all trust and confidence in the relationship between Europe and the United States will require recreating the links between world leaders. It is critical to world peace and global security. This cannot just happen on Zoom. Meetings and summits are essential. Frictions get worse without human contacts.

Travel restrictions area form of xenophobia

Xenophobia is the fear of the foreigner, a word that stems from the ancient Greek language.

Transatlantic flights are the busiest air corridor and were shrunk by 80%, according to the IATA. It might be hard to swallow, but the way every country or region has launched restrictions to travel to each other territory contains an implicit judgment of the safety of other countries.

One of the ingredients of the renewal of international cooperation will be to be able to visit and meet each other. Today, it is almost impossible to fly from Europe to the United States except for citizens and permanent residents, whether for business, institutional, or family reasons. Only citizens or green card holders can do so. Many European countries have closed access from the United States. This happens despite the fact that most airlines require a not-older-than- three-days Covid test.

New Covid-19 testing programs may be the key to unlocking travel between the United States and Europe. Select passengers flying on American Airlines, British Airways, and United Airlines flights are eligible to participate in testing programs that are evaluating whether preflight Covid-19 tests can be used to relax travel restrictions imposed by both countries.

Air Travel is not especially dangerous in the right conditions

Researchers found that travel restrictions will not necessarily prevent the spreading of the virus. Airlines and their passengers are taking serious measures to prevent spreading. What is the exact danger to travel from New York to London, compared to traveling between the East and West Coasts and the U.S.? Why can I take a six-hour flight from New York to San Francisco than to Paris or Brussels? The flight duration is the same.

The CDC found “During January 17–September 13, 2020, 766,044 travelers were screened, 298 (0.04%) of whom met CDC criteria for referral. Travelers were referred because they had either been in Hubei Province (16, 5.4%), reported contact with a person with COVID-19 (four, 1.3%), or had signs or symptoms that triggered a public health assessment (278, 93.3%).”

The restrictions on air travel, but not on public transport are inconsistent. Trains, busses, and subways are less safe, and distancing is less effective. Air travel is probably one of the safest ways to transatlantic travel.

Taxpayer money was used to rescue airlines and the aeronautic industry

The case of the United States is obvious: 60% of the air travel has continued, essentially domestically. For Europe, it is 40% since it added intra-European restrictions.

But passenger travel has literally crashed. Everything is done to limit people from traveling — not always substantiated by evidence. In a political twist, the Trump administration defended the absence of Covid-related precautions, but its fundamental nationalist and xenophobic policies closed international flights.

Source: Statista

Substitute testing for quarantine

While quarantine was justified when the virus was still unknown, it is odd to perpetuate it now. The lack of travel has become the most stringent obstacle to the resumption of activity, in all its forms such as work, art, sport, business, tourism, or family meetings. We do not have the luxury to stay confined in a hotel when visiting a country across the Atlantic.

Tests are currently available and for an international traveler, getting tested three days before taking off is perfectly possible. Airports make tests available upon arrival if need be. The underinvestment in testing makes results sometimes too long.

One of the greatest failures of the governments is encouraging, if not forcing, tests prior to developing adequate testing capabilities and the necessary laboratory equipment. Receiving results after five days only have historic value.

Wasting taxpayer money: the bailout

When the dust settles, the decision to stop international flights will prove to be based on prejudice by our political leaders who were obliged to spend tens of billions of dollars to rescue the airlines, Boeing and Airbus as well as the national carriers. Airports needed to be supported as their revenues were disappearing. The transatlantic tourism industry collapsed as a result of the inability of Europeans to go to the United States and vice-versa. Hotels and restaurants are going bankrupt and will do even more in 2021. Asian tourists were few and far between.

As much as I can understand that in the first few months we did not know what was going on, the current reduction of air travel is destructive and costs taxpayers unnecessary bail-out money. Why was it necessary for the government to inject $25 billion in an industry that can raise equity? To protect shareholders.

Europe is even worse and its total rescue programs exceed the US interventions.




CEO at Galileo Global Advisors and Adjunct professor Columbia Law School.

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Georges Ugeux

Georges Ugeux

CEO at Galileo Global Advisors and Adjunct professor Columbia Law School.

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