Air travel's 2021 rebound threatened by Covid-19 flare-ups, IATA says

Passenger traffic fell by almost two thirds last year compared with 2019, the International Air Transport Association said. PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS (BLOOMBERG) - Forecasts for a significant recovery in air travel this year could be wide of the mark as new coronavirus strains extend travel restrictions, according to the airline industry's trade body.

Passenger traffic may improve by only 13 per cent compared with last year in a worst-case scenario, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said on Wednesday (Feb 3). That compares with an official forecast of a 50 per cent rebound issued in December.

Tough curbs on cross-border trips in response to new Covid-19 flareups could stifle a recovery despite strong pent-up demand, IATA chief economist Brian Pearce said in a media briefing. Herd immunity may be required before restrictions are eased, something that could be delayed by the identification of new viral strains.

"There's a recovery, but it's a much smaller recovery," Mr Pearce said. "What we've seen in recent weeks is governments taking a much, much tougher, more cautious approach."

Passenger traffic fell by almost two thirds last year compared with 2019, IATA said. While the steepest drops came in April, the re-imposition of lockdowns meant the December figure was 70 per cent lower, extending to 85 per cent on international routes. Cargo demand fared much better, sliding only 11 per cent.

Should the lower estimate for a 13 per cent improvement come to pass, that would equate to 38 per cent of the level seen before the pandemic, IATA said.

As a result, IATA Director General Alexandre de Juniac said carriers may require as much as US$80 billion (S$106.6 billion) more in government funding to survive the year.

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