Airlines

Health and safety certificates may be the new 'visas' that permit air travel, Etihad CEO says

Key Points
  • Airlines will need to meet a "harmonized" standard of health measures as air travel returns, according to Tony Douglas of Etihad Airways.
  • He said "wellness certification" will become necessary, and that Etihad's efforts to ensure "wellness" include sterilization of cabins and mandatory coronavirus tests.
  • "We'll adapt and we'll adopt and therefore, wellness certification will probably be no (different) to the way in which visas used to be issued in order to give safe passage," Douglas said.
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Etihad Airways: We have received 'remarkable support' from Abu Dhabi

SINGAPORE — Airlines will need to meet a "harmonized" standard of health measures as air travel returns following the global pandemic, according to the CEO of Etihad Airways.

"I can see that wellness certification will become a necessary function of how the whole of the world comes back to flying," Tony Douglas told CNBC's Hadley Gamble last week as part of the Global Aerospace Summit.

For Etihad, a United Arab Emirates flag carrier, efforts to ensure "wellness" include sterilization of cabins, mandatory coronavirus tests for passengers and tracking wristbands to be worn during the compulsory 14-day quarantine.

An Airbus A321 airliner of Etihad Airways that has delivered medical supplies for fighting Covid-19 from the United Arab Emirates at Grozny International Airport in Russia.
Yelena Afonina | TASS | Getty Images

"We'll adapt and we'll adopt and therefore, wellness certification will probably be no (different) to the way in which visas used to be issued in order to give safe passage," he said.

The airline industry has been heavily affected by the Covid-19 health crisis after countries shut their borders in an attempt to slow the virus. While some air travel has resumed, the International Air Transport Association said the results have been "dismally disappointing" and have not delivered a "real bounce" to the sector.

'Internationally aligned' processes

With no end in sight to the pandemic, Etihad's Douglas said airlines will have to adapt to assure passengers that it's safe to fly.

"In exactly the same way with security standards after Lockerbie, after 9/11, and with the liquid bomb threats, that saw global aviation security standards harmonized everywhere, I forecast that that's what will happen with wellness as well," he said.

Douglas said he was not comparing the coronavirus to terrorism, but pointing out the importance of "internationally aligned" processes. 

"With those terrorism examples, over time, whole baggage screening became a global, acknowledged, harmonized standard," he said. "I'm going to go out there and predict that, following Covid, there will be changes to the way in which wellness certification will come into play."

Layoffs

The airline, which is the country's second-largest, announced wage cuts and layoffs in May. Douglas said "thousands" had been laid off and that it's a "regrettable reality" facing the industry. 

Etihad has lost more than $5 billion since 2016 and had been working on a transformation program for more than two years when the coronavirus outbreak hit. Douglas said he could not guarantee there would be no further layoffs, given the problems facing the industry.

Douglas told CNBC that the state-owned company has received "remarkable support" from the Abu Dhabi government.

"The trick to us now, is to concentrate on how we navigate coming out of the other side of it," he said. "I'm sure Etihad will be one of the winners in all of this."

—CNBC's Natasha Turak contributed to this report.