Seven SEA transport ministers pledge to urgently restore regional air travel

The ministers said they will work together to strengthen air connectivity between South-east Asia and other regions. - AFP

SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/Asia News Network): Transport ministers from seven South-East Asian countries pledged on Tuesday (May 17) to work closely to urgently rebuild and restore air travel, as the region looks to capitalise on the reopening of borders to boost recovery.

In a statement, the ministers of Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Cambodia and Brunei said they will facilitate the mutual recognition of Covid-19 health certificates and the development of an Asean single aviation market.

Measures cited also include the harmonising of aviation-related public health and safety measures, as well as greater cooperation on sustainable practices such as environmentally sound new technologies.

The ministers said they will also work together to strengthen air connectivity between South-East Asia and other regions.

Finally, they will promote training and capacity building to support the recovery and growth of the civil aviation sector and the well-being of its workers.

The statement was released on the first day of the inaugural Changi Aviation Summit at Sands Expo and Convention Centre, during which industry leaders and government ministers discussed the way forward for the industry.

Talks on Asean travel bubbles in the last two years have not materialised, and international passenger traffic within South-east Asia before April was a tiny fraction of pre-Covid-19 levels.

This has since gone up, with many Asean countries, including Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, independently opening their borders from April.

Brendan Sobie of Sobie Aviation said intra-Asean passenger traffic is now fast picking up, as all borders have opened and virtually all testing requirements have been lifted.

The region was relatively slow at resolving the issue of vaccine recognition, although some progress now has finally been made, he added.

A travel corridor initially announced in November 2020 also did not happen, but this is now moot, along with many other stalled Asean air travel initiatives.

"The recovery was initially more long-haul than regional," he said.

"This is now changing and while the earlier initiatives are now mostly moot, Asean countries can still work together to help facilitate the recovery of international traffic between the 10 countries."

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