Flying in crisis as air travel not expected to recover until 2024
International Air Transport Association (IATA) revealed that air travel is likely to recover from the effects of Covid-19 by 2024.
Speaking at an IATA media briefing on July 28, 2020, IATA’s Director General and CEO Alexandre de Juniac said the situation looked grim.
“There was more flying in June, but still demand was down 86.5 percent on 2019 levels. It may be an improvement, but we are still in a very deep crisis. And it does not appear that it will end any time soon.
“The slow speed of improvement is telling us that the recovery will take a year longer than we previously expected. We now think it will be 2024 before Revenue Passenger Kilometers (RPKs) return to 2019 levels. And this could slip further if we have setbacks in containing the virus or finding a vaccine.
“Because we expect more short-haul flying in the recovery phase, passenger numbers could return to 2019 levels earlier than RPKs—by 2023. And this is also a year later than we previously thought,” he said.
De Juniac said travel restrictions were the most immediate problem.
“Our challenge is to learn to live with this virus. But most of the world remains closed with severe restrictions on movement. Keeping travel and tourism, which is 10 percent of the global economy, in lockdown does not qualify as progress towards learning to live with the virus. The UK’s start-stop approach to lifting and re-imposing restrictions does not qualify either.
“People need to see governments working together so that they can safely get on with more normal lives. For tens of millions that means resuming jobs in the travel and tourism sector. And for hundreds of millions more that means the ability to travel,” he explained at the press conference.
He also emphasised that the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) guidance on safely resuming aviation is designed to manage the risks of reconnecting people and economies during the pandemic.
He said this included screening people before travel and measures to avoid transmission in flight.
"If governments can implement comprehensive contact tracing, we will be able to isolate and test to stop community spread from anybody—travellers or others. The immediate top priority in combatting travel restrictions is implementing the ICAO guidance and establishing contact tracing," he suggested.
De Juniac also believed that Covid-19 testing needed to play a role in facilitating travel.
"I am not suggesting that testing should be a blanket requirement for re-opening. But there are already tests that are accurate enough to be used to facilitate the relaxing of travel restrictions if they are taken 24-28 hours before travellers head to the airport.
"And as tests become even, faster and scalable, these could take place closer to the traveler’s flight time and in the vicinity of the airport," he said.
He emphasised the need for relief measures, stating that a "slower recovery will put more airlines in financial peril."
"Government relief measures are essential, which includes direct financial assistance. Given the ballooning debt burden that the industry has taken on, this must be in ways that don’t do further damage to the balance sheet."