Don’t plan on air travel returning to normal until 2023, airline official says

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International governments must be in synch and consumer confidence must return

While the pandemic-triggered upheaval of the airline industry in the U.S. was dramatic enough, the damage is even worse around the world.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has released a new evaluation of the global airline industry’s post-pandemic life. It estimates that things might not return to normal until 2023. If that sounds pessimistic, well, it is, and for a good reason.

It’ll take money and consumer confidence

The IATA took a lot of factors into consideration in its forecast: quarantine measures on arrival and globally harmonized biosecurity measures chief among them.

“Major stimulus from governments combined with liquidity injections by central banks will boost the economic recovery once the pandemic is under control,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.

“But rebuilding passenger confidence will take longer. And even then, individual and corporate travelers are likely to carefully manage travel spend and stay closer to home.”  

Best and worst case scenarios

As a baseline, de Juniac says domestic markets have to reopen by this fall while expecting a slower phased opening of international markets. 

Also, global passenger demand (measured in revenue passenger kilometers) can’t dip any further. At the moment, it’s running about 24 percent lower than 2019 and 32 percent lower than IATA’s forecast for 2021.

And the worst-case scenario? If lockdowns extend into the fall and there is a slower opening of economies, de Juniac thinks that double-whammy would further delay the air travel industry’s recovery.

Travelers have to feel good about flying, too

De Juniac knows that nothing’s going to happen unless there are passengers aboard those airplanes. His organization’s research uncovered the fact that 86 percent of travelers were somewhat or very concerned about being quarantined while traveling, and 69 percent of recent travelers wouldn’t step foot on a plane if it involved a 14-day quarantine period.

“We need a solution for safe travel that addresses two challenges. It must give passengers the confidence to travel safely and without undue hassle. And it must give governments confidence that they are protected from importing the virus,” said de Juniac.

To help travelers feel more confident, the IATA proposes a risk-based layering of temporary non-quarantine measures until there’s a viable vaccine, immunity passports, or nearly instant COVID-19 testing available at scale.

The critical element in boosting confidence is getting everyone on the same page -- especially individual governments around the world.

“The COVID-19 Aviation Recovery Task Force (CART) has a very big job to do with little time to waste. It must find an agreement among states on the measures needed to control COVID-19 as aviation re-starts. And it must build confidence among governments that borders can be opened to travelers because a layered approach of measures has been properly implemented globally. IATA and the whole industry support this critical work,” said de Juniac.

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