The lack of co-operation between governments is stymieing the restart of commercial air travel amid the coronavirus pandemic, potentially causing “irreparable demand to global connectivity”, according to IATA.

Reflecting on a bleak set of figures for July passenger traffic today, IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac lamented that while governments had worked together to set guidelines for the ramping-up of air travel, that co-operation has ended when it comes to implementing the restart of services.

“That’s why 90% of international flying has stopped,” de Juniac states. “The demand is there. When borders open without quarantine, people fly. But there is too much uncertainty in how governments are managing the situation for passengers to rebuild the confidence to travel.

”What is killing aviation is the fact that governments are not managing the risks of opening borders. Instead, they are keeping global mobility effectively in lockdown.”

He cautions that if this continues, ”the damage to global connectivity could become irreparable”, with “severe consequences” for economies and public health. 

IATA’s latest figures for passenger travel in July show that traffic measured in RPKs was 80% down on the same month in 2019. Any uptick in demand is largely being driven by domestic markets – particularly in China, where RPKs were only 28% lower year on year.

Du Juniac

Source: IATA

IATA chief de Juniac believes that passenger confidence is being dented by government actions

International markets remain in the doldrums, with demand 92% down year on year in July. Intra-European travel saw the most positive trend – lower by 79% from 2019 – but transatlantic, transpacific and intra-Asia travel had almost flat-lined at close to 100% down on 2019 levels.

Looking into August, IATA expresses concern that the gap between capacity being added by airlines and the demand for travel is widening in the wrong direction.

It notes that unlike during the recoveries from previous crises, airlines have been unable to use low ticket prices to stimulate demand, largely because depressed traveller numbers are related to low consumer confidence, which is being exacerbated by inconsistent travel restrictions.

IATA also notes that it is increasingly seeing downside risks in its end-July projection for the industry’s recovery – which was itself a downgrade on previous expectations. 

With this challenging outlook in mind, the airline body has proposed a three-point action plan for governments to safely re-open borders, based around three areas: implementing ICAO’s “Take-off guidance” universally; building on ICAO’s Aviation Recovery Task Force (CART) to develop a common framework to reopen borders; and developing testing measures to aid the opening of borders.

“Airlines have been largely grounded for a half-year,” de Juniac states. “And the situation is not improving. In fact, in many cases it is going in the wrong direction. We see governments replacing border closures with quarantine for air travellers. Neither will restore travel or jobs. Worse, governments are changing the entry requirements with little notice to travellers or coordination with their trading partners.

“This uncertainty destroys demand. 10% of the global economy is sustained by travel and tourism; governments need to do better to restart it.”

IATA also suggests that with state-support schemes coming to an end around the world, the airline industry is likely to need a second injection of financial help amid the weak demand recovery.

It also reiterated its demand for a waiver of the 80:20 slot regulation from the European Commission, which has regulatory oversight of around half the almost 200 slot-controlled airports worldwide.