The main trade group for the world’s airlines now says the coronavirus pandemic will cost the industry an estimated $157 billion this year and into 2021, well beyond previous predictions.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) forecast Tuesday that the sector will continue to suffer in a crisis that is “devastating and unrelenting,” IATA Director General Alexandre de Juniac said in a statement via CNN.com
De Juniac said that COVID-19 made 2020 the worst financial year on record “bar none” with net losses to total $118.5 billion, worse than the $84.3 billion in losses forecast in June.
IATA now believes the airline industry will also lose $38.7 billion in 2021, deeper than its previous $15.8 billion forecast.
“We need to get borders safely reopened without quarantine so that people will fly again,” said de Juniac. “With airlines expected to bleed cash at least until the fourth quarter of 2021 there is no time to lose.”
Airlines have already cut tens of thousands of jobs, with many more positions that rely on the sector at risk. That is especially true in the U.S., where domestic carriers are still awaiting a second stimulus package that is hung up in Congress.
IATA expects passenger numbers to drop this year to 1.8 billion, which CNN notes is about the same number that airlines carried in 2003.
IATA predicts passenger numbers to grow to 2.8 billion in 2021, but won’t return to the 4.5 billion people who boarded an airplane last year until 2024 at the earliest, with domestic markets expected to recover faster than international flights.
The expected introduction next month of effective vaccines for COVID-19 has fed some optimism that travel can pick up next year, including one day earlier this month when airline stocks soared. But vaccinating millions of people across borders will take time, and “The first half of next year still looks extremely challenging,” IATA said.
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