PCR Tests Heavily Impacting Air Travel Demand-Report

  • Airlines Make Case For Countries To Start Accepting Rapid Antigen Tests

Global airlines have urged governments to accept rapid antigen tests for their COVID-19 testing requirements following the publication of new research by OXERA and Edge Health.

Currently, most countries require travellers to take a PCR test before travelling. But airlines believe the lack of uniformity in the current system leaves passengers confused and is dampening what little air travel demand there is.

The OXERA-Edge Health report, commissioned by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), found that antigen tests are “accurate, convenient and cost-efficient”.

The best antigen tests provide broadly comparable results to PCR tests in accurately identifying infected travellers, the report said.

The BinaxNOW antigen test, for example, misses just one positive case in 1,000 travellers (based on an infection rate of 1 percent among travellers). And it has similarly comparable performance to PCR tests in levels of false negatives.

Processing times for antigen tests are 100 times faster than for PCR testing. And antigen tests are, on average, 60 percent cheaper than PCR tests.

“Along with vaccines, testing will play a critical role in giving governments the confidence to re-open their borders to travellers,” said Alexandre de Juniac, former IATA’s CEO.

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“For governments, the top priority is accuracy. But travellers will also need tests to be convenient and affordable. The OXERA-Edge Health report tells us that the best-in-class antigen tests can tick all these boxes. It’s important for governments to consider these findings as they make plans for a re-start.”


Testing requirements are currently fragmented, which is confusing to travellers, IATA said. Moreover, many governments do not allow rapid testing. If the only options available for travellers are PCR tests, these come with significant costs disadvantages and inconvenience. And in some parts of the world, PCR testing capacity is limited, with first priority correctly given to clinical use.

“Travelers need options. Including antigen testing among acceptable tests will certainly give strength to the recovery,” de Juniac said.

“And the EU’s specification of acceptable antigen tests offers a good baseline for wider international harmonisation of acceptable standards. We now need to see governments implement these recommendations. The goal is to have a clear set of testing options that are medically effective, financially accessible, and practically available to all prospective travellers.”


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If rapid tests are not an option for travellers, significant cost and convenience barriers are created, the report found. The OXERA-Edge Health report said that the cost of PCR testing can completely alter the economics of travel.

A family of four travelling from the UK to the Canary Islands will take a total of 16 tests at a total cost of around GBP 1,600 or EUR 1,850 – a premium of 160 percent on top of the average air fare.

The modelling shows that based on five routes studied (London-New York, London-Frankfurt, UK-Singapore, UK-Pakistan and Manchester-Canary Islands) the cost impact of PCR testing will reduce demand by an average of 65 percent. Replacing PCR with antigen testing would still have a cost impact on demand, but at 30 percent.




In addition to dramatically shorter processing times for antigen testing when compared to PCR, the report also pointed to the scarcity of PCR tests. Current spare PCR testing capacity in the UK, for example, would cover only 25 percent of 2019 passenger levels.

This could cause bottlenecks as and when passenger numbers rebound. Adding antigen testing as an acceptable option would help to alleviate this.

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Michele Granatstein, Partner at Oxera and Head of its Aviation Practice, said: “When international travel reopens testing is likely to remain part of the strategy for controlling COVID.

The type of testing regime chosen will make the difference in how quickly the travel industry recovers. The choice of a rapid test would be a real boost to the global travel and international business community, and our research shows it can be as effective as other testing regimes and as effective as a ten-day quarantine.”

De Juniac added: “We are already seeing rapid testing becoming commonplace in non-travel settings such as schools and workplaces. Extending its use to travel is a logical step. Science backs this up. In real world conditions, antigen testing is as effective as PCR testing in reducing the risk of cross-border transmission. Meanwhile the cost and bureaucracy of PCR tests adds huge burdens to families and businesses looking to travel. These are important considerations in preparing for a successful re-start.”

Wole Shadare