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Posts Tagged ‘australia pacific’

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The outbreak and rapid spread of the H1N1 swine influenza virus in Mexico and now the United States puts policymakers and business leaders in a difficult position vis-a-vis air travel. Pandemics exploit all the virtues of the air travel boom of the past few decades — a system that transports people and goods for travel, commerce, and economic opportunity suddenly becomes a primary agent of deadly disease. It’s the downside risk of international economic and cultural integration. Such integration still pays handsome benefits, however, and the risks can be mitigated by a multilateral public health infrastructure poised to go into action.

We are now in a critical moment for U.S. and World Health Organization (WHO) policymakers and the international aviation industry. To declare a pandemic right now and impose travel restrictions (as the U.S. and WHO have not done) might overstate the threat from swine flu and excessively impair travel to Mexico and U.S. border regions. But this outbreak appears to be unusually aggressive, with high mortality, suggesting that policymakers should nip it in the bud regardless of the cost to the travel industry. As the first case was reported in Europe, EU authorities issued travel advisories for the United States and Mexico. The danger to the aviation industry from either an over-aggressive response or from a widespread pandemic is high. In April and May 2003, at the height of the SARS epidemic in Southeast Asia and Canada, air traffic in the Asia-Pacific region dropped 45 and 51 percent, respectively. U.S. carriers with extensive routes in Asia — Northwest and United, especially — also suffered. This is an even worse problem in a recession, in which the prospect of future growth after an epidemic-related contraction is limited.

Part of the problem for policymakers is that U.S. citizens are inexperienced with pandemic response procedures. We are used to frequent and easy travel, not only by air but also locally, for work, school, or recreation. With deadly infectious diseases like smallpox and polio eradicated, we have become lazy. Less than half the number of people for whom the annual flu vaccine is recommended get it. Activists play on fear to spread the unproven belief that ingredients of children’s vaccines can cause autism, and their success in misinforming the public is correlated with a spike in pediatric measles infections (Megan McArdle referred to parents who decline to vaccinate their children as “twee BoBo sociopaths“). Our cities are unaccustomed to quarantines. How would you react to an order to stay indoors except for essential business? Would you obey it? The discipline of disease control is honed over time and cannot be immediately adopted with success. Moreover, the scale of the United States is also unsuitable for a concerted public health response. It’s one thing to isolate SARS in a tiny enclave like Hong Kong (which is extremely vigilant, at any rate) or on an island like Taiwan (unconscionably prohibited by Beijing from receiving WHO support during epidemics, by the way).

Whether or not this swine flu outbreak becomes an epidemic or a pandemic, policymakers and airline industry leaders need to be prepared for the dark side of global integration. Preventing the spread of epidemic diseases should be at the top of any government’s list.

Further reading:

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The Cranky Flier draws attention to a little-noticed aspect of this past weekend’s end of daylight savings time: its effects on airline schedules. Normally airlines deal with these sorts of things by making necessary adjustments (especially complicated, he says, for flights between the northern and southern hemisphere, where daylight savings is going on when it’s not for us.). But Congress’s extension of DST for two weeks in October is really throwing a monkey wrench into transatlantic scheduling:

[A]t congested airports like London/Heathrow or Frankfurt, the airlines don’t have slot flexibility so I assumed they’d have to just change around their flights in the US. But what about when that involves flights at New York/JFK or Chicago/O’Hare, also congested airports? This gets very tricky and the result is a hodgepodge of schedule changes for some airlines. . . .

Look at JFK, however, and the London flights change both their US departure and arrival times. As you can imagine, arriving into the US an hour later means missed connections and longer waits for the next flight.

Aviation policy turns up where you least expect it

How Daylight Savings Time Impacts the Airlines [The Cranky Flier]

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The U.S. and Australian governments will “conclude a comprehensive open-skies aviation agreement” early next year, according to The Age, opening up competition on U.S.-Australia nonstops. Qantas currently controls 75 percent of that market, and the only U.S. airline to fly nonstop to Australia is United. The article claims that the route is one of the world’s least competitive. Current rules virtually guarantee that new entrants fail: “The current Australia-US air services agreement restricts airlines on the route to four flights a week in their first year of operation — a level of frequency deemed uneconomic for airlines wanting to grab a slice of the high-yielding corporate market.” The Age‘s realistically jaundiced eye also notes that incumbent carriers are looking to throw whatever self-protecting measures they can into the mix. In the meantime, hooray for more open skies.

US air pact ups Virgin Blue hopes [The Age]

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