The International Air Transport Association (Iata), which is the global representative body of the airline industry, is seeing some encouraging signs of recovery in the industry. “There is some optimism about the airline industry, but [also] reasons to be cautious,” Iata senior economist Ezgi Gulbas told reporters participating in the virtual Iata Global Media Days 2021 on Wednesday afternoon.
Growth in the air cargo sector has been strong. Global demand in May this year was 9.4% higher than in May 2019 (the last month of May before the Covid-19 pandemic). “This provides some relief to the industry,” she noted, which was still struggling with a slow recovery in air passenger traffic.
While public confidence was recovering, total air passenger demand was lagging behind, with travel restrictions being one of the reasons for this. “Domestic [air passenger] demand is recovering very fast,” she clarified. Domestic air travel demand depended on control of Covid-19 – in those countries in which the disease had been brought under control, passenger demand had recovered strongly; in countries where the disease was resurging, domestic passenger demand was falling.
However, bookings for future international air travel were now increasing, although from a very low base. And significant future uncertainty remained. “The main concern now is new Covid variants, which could delay the opening of certain markets,” she pointed out. “That makes us cautious about the recovery,” in the short term.
The evidence indicated that there was pent-up demand for travel. But that demand was currently still very fragile.
She further reported that the airline industry was expected to perform more strongly during the second half of this year. But the industry would only break-even during next year. The second semester this year would also see cash-burn by the industry reduce, but the recovery would remain very fragile because of its vulnerability to government policies, such as the reimposition of travel restrictions.