ALERT - Air Line Emergency Restrictions Tracker

Introduction

ALERT (Air Line Emergency Restrictions Tracker) is an initiative of the McGill University Institute of Air and Space Law (IASL) in Montreal, Canada. ALERT is an interactive graphic website that tracks the emergency restrictions imposed on international and domestic air passenger travel by around 150 countries in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rationale for ALERT

Whether for a while or permanently, the pandemic has changed the world in which we live, with severe impacts on economies and societies. One of the economic sectors most deeply affected by this pandemic is air travel. International air travel in particular has been dramatically curtailed, by some estimates falling 98% from its 2019 peak of over 4.5 billion passengers carried. It took only a matter of weeks for air passenger traffic to suffer a succession of nationally-mandated severe restrictions and even outright bans across the globe.

Annex 9, Standard 2.4 of the Chicago Convention provides that “Contracting States shall not prevent an aircraft from calling at any international airport for public health reasons unless such action is taken in accordance with the International Health Regulations (2005) of the World Health Organization (WHO).” The WHO and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) continue to advise against the application of travel or trade restrictions, but since January 2020 States have unilaterally imposed restrictions or absolute bans on air travel.

The types of restrictions or bans on air travel around the world are hard to navigate. Whereas some countries have banned all scheduled international commercial passenger services until a particular date (subject to the possibility of extension), some other countries have imposed a prohibition on individual travellers based on their nationality or residency. Some countries have outright restricted flights originating from certain countries, whereas yet other countries have denied symptomatic passengers from boarding flights. Moreover, States have imposed rules of mandatory self-quarantine or quarantine in public facilities for those travelling inbound from abroad. Certain countries have also imposed restrictions on domestic air travel.

While some countries are slowly lifting air travel restrictions, the varying and rapidly-evolving responses and policy toward air travel by so many governments means that it is exceedingly difficult for prospective air travellers – as well as the airline sector itself – to be aware in real-time how travel mobility is being affected by the global pandemic. The ALERT portal is intended to relieve this difficulty by providing country-by-country air travel restriction information in a user-friendly real-time format.

What is ALERT?

The IASL’s new portal – ALERT - tracks the multiple government responses to international air travel in order to provide accurate and timely information on restrictions to national and international lawmakers, policymakers, airlines, international trade organisations, and the general travelling public. In line with the Institute’s continuing mission to inform and educate the public, the ALERT portal contains the most up-to-date information on how governments are applying unilateral measures to constrain and even suspend domestic and international air travel. At its launch on May 29, 2020, the website is tracking a large and representative group of countries that includes all 36 Member States of the ICAO Council as well as 60 “rotation” countries affiliated with the Council membership. Later, details of around 50 countries have been added. One glance at ALERT’s unique global map will give users access to the most recently-available information on policies in around 150 countries and also includes links to key local regulations wherever feasible.

Navigating ALERT

ALERT includes four user-friendly features:

  1. An interactive map of the world, allowing the user to simply click on the relevant country for information on the applicable national regulations on air travel.
  2. A searchable table, which provides the air travel restrictions of around 150 countries at one glance and based on key metrics.
  3. A Graphical representation, allowing the user to compare and contrast laws and policies across the globe and, with the lapse of time, to trace the evolution of the rigidity of restrictions imposed.
  4. A ranking system assigning a rank to each country listed in the website on the basis of greater to lesser leniency of air travel restrictions.

ALERT includes the following metrics for each country listed:

  1. Rank: A rank for each country, listed in the website, on the basis of greater to lesser leniency of travel restrictions. The higher the ranking of a country, the more lenient its travel restrictions are. [Note: there are instances where more than one country has been assigned the same rank; the ranking system is based on our assessment of the degree of leniency of travel restrictions in each country]. While deciding on the ranking of a country we have factored in information for each country with respect to metrics 2, 3 and 4 below. The weighting of the metrics varies, with maximum weight given to international restrictions and the least weight given to domestic restrictions.
  2. Basis for international restriction: TThis metric includes the basis on which a country has imposed an international air travel restriction and typically represents a range from an absolute ban to restrictions on non-nationals and non-residents entering the country to restrictions on flights from certain specific countries or a ban on non-essential travel. [Note: if certain parts of a country have severely restricted travel, we have tried to capture that restriction to the extent possible, despite difficulties in obtaining information for particular sub-units within a country].
  3. Travellers' quarantine and health check information: This metric gives details of any quarantine rules for international travellers [note: in most cases, based on current medical recommendations as to contagion, every international traveler has to quarantine in home or designated facilities for two weeks. There are some countries where there are more onerous quarantine requirements such as quarantine for more than two weeks, quarantine in designated facilities only even for asymptomatic passengers or quarantine at designated facilities even for domestic travel.]
  4. Domestic restrictions: This metric includes information about countries which have absolute restrictions on domestic air travel or restricted domestic air travel for essential services only. [Note: there are some countries which have not restricted domestic travel; also, some countries do not have available infrastructure for domestic flights and in these cases we tag the domestic flight restriction as not applicable.]
  5. Cross-reference: A country-to-country cross-reference is provided in order to give a complete picture for a given country [for example, if Country A has restricted entry of flights from Country B, Country A will also appear as a as cross-reference in the information provided for Country B]
  6. Supporting documents: The final metric includes the documentary sources used to provide the information for each country. [Note: we endeavour to be as transparent as possible and wherever possible we use primary sources rather than secondary commentaries such as news reports].

To provide at-a-glance air travel restrictions for each of the approximately 150 countries that we cover on the portal, all of the information in 1-6 is included in the searchable table; the search feature allows the user to search information for information on a specific country. Clicking on a country in the table will also give the user access to our archive for each country, a resource that will become more helpful as policies alter over time.

Further, a card/text bubble pops up when the user clicks on a specific country on the interactive map. The card contains the same information for a country that is available using the searchable table. This pop-up feature will be especially helpful for users who wish to compare air travel restrictions imposed by neighbouring countries as well as in understanding regional policies on air travel restrictions.

In addition, at the top of the dashboard, we provide three graphs that give a summary overview of air travel restrictions around the world. [note: currently the graphs provide information for about 150 countries; that number is constantly being expanded]. The graphs summarise information collected under the following metrics: (a) Basis for international air travel restrictions; (b) Quarantine/Self-Isolation for international air travellers; (c) Domestic air travel restrictions.

If there is any inconsistency between information in the graphic representations and information in the searchable table/pop-up card, the information in the searchable table/ pop-up card prevails.

Finally, please note that the portal is being updated on a continuing basis and the user will see a date mark for each country by visiting the archive or by clicking on the name of a particular country in the searchable table (which re-directs to the archive). The portal currently reports on the laws and regulations of about 150 countries/territories, but ultimately will feature information on every country and territory in the world.

The Genesis of the ALERT and the Managing Team

The idea for ALERT came up in the course of a research project undertaken by IASL doctoral candidate Upasana Dasgupta for IASL Director, Professor Brian F. Havel. Upasana was working on air travel restrictions in Canada for a forthcoming special Covid-19 edition of the Kluwer periodical Air and Space Law. She noticed the absence of a single website providing information on the airline travel restrictions of every country and proposed that the IASL should create such a site as a public service. The project has been supervised by Professor Havel and has attracted the interest and input of several IASL students who have volunteered their time to deepen the information database on which the ALERT portal relies.

Once ALERT was conceptualised, a software architect and web applications developer, Debanjan Sengupta, developed the web portal for ALERT, along with its interactive features. In addition, Mila – Quebec Artificial Intelligence Institute (MILA) and McGill Computer Science doctoral student, Arna Ghosh helped in carrying out the data analysis for the website.

Supervision:
  1. Professor Dr. Brian Havel, Director, Institute of Air and Space Law
IASL student/ Alumni:
  1. Upasana Dasgupta, Doctoral Candidate, IASL
  2. Akintayo Akintola, LLM Candidate, IASL
  3. Ujwala Iyengar, LLM Candidate, IASL
  4. Silvana Gomez Castillo, Research assistant, Airports Council International
  5. Juan Esteban Lopez Gomez, LLM Candidate, IASL
  6. Vito Di Mei, Doctoral Candidate, IASL (assistance with Chinese language texts)
  7. Artur Eberg, Doctoral Candidate, IASL (assistance with Russian language texts)
Web development/ Data analysis:
  1. Debanjan Sengupta, Software Architect & Web Applications Developer
  2. Arna Ghosh, PhD student, MILA and Computer Science Department, McGill University
  3. Koustuv Sinha, PhD student, MILA and Reasoning and Learning Lab at McGill University, (involved only as AI Consultant)

Future directions

In the future, other tools and metrics to enhance the useability and value of the portal to the general public will be considered. You can communicate with the ALERT managers by using this email address: feedback@iaslalertmcgill.info. We welcome suggestions for improvement of the portal and additional information that you may be able to provide to enhance the content.

Stay tuned for more.