“Travel restrictions bought government’s time to respond in the early days of the pandemic - nearly two years later, that rationale no longer exists,” said IATA Director-General Willie Walsh. Image Credit: Bloomberg

Dubai: Airlines will lose another $52 billion in 2021 as a result of the pandemic that has decimated air travel demand, according to Willie Walsh, International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) Director-General.

“That’s a significant cut from the $138 billion lost in 2020 – losses will further reduce in 2022 to about $12 billion,” said Walsh, during an event on Monday. “In total, the COVID-19 crisis will have cost aviation ($201 billion in losses before we return to profitability in 2023.

“We’re past the deepest point of the crisis, and while serious issues remain, the path to recovery is coming into view.”

Walsh’s remarks come after the spread of the Delta variant led to a modest deterioration in air travel in August. Industry-wide revenue passenger kilometres (RPKs) fell by 56 per cent compared to August 2019, following a 53.0 per cent drop in July. This was entirely driven by domestic market developments, in particular the Chinese domestic market.

Redundant measures

Walsh spoke about the need to get rid of aviation measures that outlive their usefulness.

“We know that it took too long to recognize that working together and sharing vital information are the foundations of a strong defense against terrorism,” said Walsh. “There is no doubt that we are far more secure today than in 2001.

“We could be much more efficient if we eliminated measures that have been surpassed by technology, and we cannot allow this same mistake to be repeated with COVID-19,” he added.

Belarus incident

In May, a Ryanair Boeing 737 was forced to land at Minsk. Belarusian authorities scrambled a fighter jet and flagged what turned out to be a false bomb alert to force the plane to land and then detained an opposition-minded journalist who was on board.

In the aftermath of the incident, Belarus faced sanctions and commercial jets avoided the country’s airspace.

“The recent deplorable Belarus incident reminds us that two wrongs can never make a right,” said Walsh. “We must stand together and insist that all authorities respect their bilateral commitments and keep safety regulation, free from political agendas and influence.

“We must get back to a safety regulatory system that relies on mutual recognition and reciprocity,” he added.

Need to fly

Walsh said the rising domestic traffic was indicative of people’s interest in flying.

“The solid rebound in domestic markets tells us that people are not afraid to fly, and nearly 90 per cent of those who have flown recently reported that they felt safe,” said Walsh.