Interview: Global air passenger traffic to nosedive by 55 pct in 2020: IATA

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by Martina Fuchs

GENEVA, July 28 (XINHUA) — Global airline body IATA released an updated global passenger forecast on Tuesday, warning that the recovery in air traffic has been slower than expected and that the storm facing the industry is far from over.

In its base case scenario, global passenger traffic measured in revenue passenger kilometers will not return to pre-COVID-19 levels until 2024, a year later than previously projected, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said in a statement.

In an interview with Xinhua, IATA Director General and CEO Alexandre de Juniac said although there has been an improvement in short-haul travel, international markets still remain largely closed and consumer confidence is depressed.

“We have very weak passenger demand that is recovering only slowly, first in domestic markets but not in intercontinental travel due to the border closures and travel restrictions that have been imposed by governments,” he said.

De Juniac believed that new health and safety regulations such as temperature checks at security and in-flight mask rules could help restore passenger confidence.

Recovery of passenger numbers to pre-COVID-19 levels, however, will also slide by a year from 2022 to 2023, IATA data showed. For 2020, global passenger numbers are expected to decline by 55 percent compared with 2019, worsened from the April forecast of 46 percent.

In June, passenger traffic fell 86.5 percent compared with the year-ago period, according to IATA. That is only slightly improved from a 91 percent contraction in May.

De Juniac said this was driven by rising demand in domestic markets, particularly China.

“The Chinese airlines are recovering especially for domestic travel, but for international travel, as many countries have closed their borders or implemented very strict sanitary and health control measures, the international travel is very, very low,” he said.

“We expect the Chinese airlines to be in a better situation than their counterparts in other countries but still in a weaker position than they were last year,” he added.

Airlines around the world including British Airways, Air France, easyJet and Lufthansa Group have announced plans to cut thousands of jobs as they grapple with the coronavirus crisis.

“We also have concerns about employment related to the air travel industry, tourism, entertainment, all these industries which are severely impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, directly and indirectly, due to the air travel reduction,” de Juniac said.

“WORST YEAR IN HISTORY”

In June, IATA warned that 2020 would be “the worst year in the history of aviation” and that airlines are expected to lose 84.3 billion U.S. dollars this year alone.

“We are still asking governments to help us. The first set of measures that had been announced by governments had been significant,” de Juniac told Xinhua.

“But things should not stop, because the crisis is not over. So we are still asking governments to put money into the industry if they want to keep strong airlines and good connectivity for their country which is absolutely key for the economic recovery.”

The head of the body representing global airlines also said he was concerned about reduced corporate travel as companies continue to be under financial pressure even as the economy improves.

“We will recover. This is an industry that has already faced many shocks and crises, so we will recover,” de Juniac stressed. “Business travel is more at risk because people are now using virtual tools, computers, tablets and web-based technologies to organize meetings.”

De Juniac also said the sector was still committed to reaching its emission-reduction goals and prioritizing investment in sustainable aviation fuels despite the pandemic.

“The goals we have committed to, which are to be carbon neutral starting 2021 and to reduce our CO2 emissions by half in 2050, we are still committed to do that, and we will do it,” he told Xinhua.

“I am not worried about our environmental commitments. The industry is committed, we will do it,” he stressed.

The aviation industry has agreed to cap carbon emissions to half the 2005 levels by 2050. Enditem

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