The IATA is calling for governments to work with the industry on confidence-boosting measures in the face of an anticipated slow recovery in demand for air travel.
“Passenger confidence will suffer a double whammy even after the pandemic is contained – hit by personal economic concerns in the face of a looming recession on top of lingering concerns about the safety of travel. Governments and industry must be quick and coordinated with confidence-boosting measures,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO.
An IATA-commissioned survey of recent travellers found that 60 per cent anticipate a return to travel within one to two months of containment of the pandemic, but 40 per cent indicate that they could wait six months or more. Additionally, 69 per cent indicated that they could delay a return to travel until their personal financial situation stabilises.
Early indications of this cautious return-to-travel behaviour are seen in the domestic markets of China and Australia, where new coronavirus infection rates have fallen to very low levels.
In China, domestic demand began to recover when new infections fell to single digits and rapidly headed towards zero. While there was an early upswing from mid-February into the first week of March, the number of domestic flights plateaued at just over 40 per cent of pre-Covid-19 levels, according to IATA.
Actual demand is expected to be significantly weaker as load factors on these flights are reported to be low, it added. China accounts for some 24 per cent of all domestic passengers.
Over in Australia, domestic demand continued to deteriorate even after new infections fell to single digits, which triggered an initial recovery in the Chinese domestic market.
IATA stated that there is still no sign of recovery, with total domestic flights at 10 per cent of pre-Covid-19 levels, even as new infections near zero. Australia accounts for three per cent of all domestic travellers.
Domestic market behaviour is a critical indicator as the post-pandemic recovery is expected to be led by domestic travel, followed by regional and then intercontinental as governments progressively remove restrictions.
“In some economies, the spread of Covid-19 has slowed to the point where governments are planning to lift the most severe elements of social distancing restrictions. But an immediate rebound from the catastrophic fall in passenger demand appears unlikely,” said de Juniac.
“People still want to travel. But they are telling us that they want clarity on the economic situation and will likely wait for at least a few months after any ‘all clear’ before returning to the skies. As countries lift restrictions, confidence boosting measures will be critical to re-start travel and stimulate economies.”
Last week, IATA conducted regional summits with governments and industry partners to begin planning for an eventual re-start of the air transport industry.
“The passenger business came to a halt with unilateral government actions to stop the spread of the virus. The industry re-start, however, must be built with trust and collaboration. And it must be guided by the best science we have available,” said de Juniac.
“Time is of the essence. We must start building a framework for a global approach that will give people the confidence that they need to travel once again. And, of course, this will need to be shored up by economic stimulus measures to combat the impact of a recession.”
In addition to confidence-building and stimulus measures, the anticipated slow recovery also adds urgency to the need for emergency financial relief measures, said IATA.
IATA estimates that some 25 million jobs in aviation and its related value-chains, including the tourism sector, are at risk in the current crisis. Passenger revenues are expected to be US$314 billion below 2019 – a drop of 55 per cent – and airlines will burn through about US$61 billion in liquidity in 2Q alone as demand plummets by 80 per cent or more.
“This is an emergency. Airlines around the world are struggling to survive. Virgin Australia which entered voluntary administration demonstrates that this risk is not theoretical. Governments will need financially viable airlines to lead the economic recovery. Many of them won’t be around to do that if they have run out of cash,” said de Juniac.
“The number of governments recognising that relief measures are needed is growing. But the crisis is also deepening. We thank the governments that have committed to provide the industry a lifeline and look forward to quick implementation. For the others, each day matters. Millions of jobs are at stake and relief cannot come fast enough.”