Airlines are on course to lose a total 157 billion dollars this year and 2021, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Director-General Alexandre de Juniac, warned on Tuesday.
IATA, their main global body further downgrading its industry outlook in response to a second wave of coronavirus infections and shutdowns afflicting major markets.
IATA which in June had forecast 100 billion dollars in losses for the two-year period, said it now projects a 118.5 billion dollars deficit this year alone, and a further 38.7 billion dollars for 2021.
The bleak outlook underscores challenges still facing the sector in spite of upbeat news on development of COVID-19 vaccines, whose global deployment will continue throughout next year.
“The positive impact it will have on the economy and air traffic will not happen massively before mid-2021,” de Juniac said.
Passenger numbers are expected to drop to 1.8 billion this year from 4.5 billion in 2019, IATA estimates, and will recover only partially to 2.8 billion next year.
Passenger revenue for 2020 is expected to have plunged 69 per cent to191 billion dollars.
The forecasts assume some re-opening of borders by the middle of next year, helped by some combination of COVID-19 testing and vaccine deployment.
IATA reiterated its call for governments to replace travel-stifling quarantine regimes with widespread testing programmes.
“We are seeing states progressively coming to listen to us,” de Juniac said, citing testing initiatives underway in France, Germany, Italy, Britain, the U.S. and Singapore.
While some governments and airlines such as Australia’s Qantas say passengers are likely to require vaccination for long-haul travel, the approach is unlikely to work everywhere, de Juniac said.
“It would prevent people who are refusing (the vaccine) from travelling,” the IATA chief said.
“Systematic testing is even more critical to reopen borders than the vaccine.”
Air cargo, a rare bright spot for the industry as the grounding of flights pushes freight prices higher, will likely see global revenue rise 15 per cent to 117.7 billion dollars this year inspite of an 11.6 per cent decline in volume to 54.2 million tonnes, IATA said.