The Covid crisis has challenged the global airline industry to fight for survival in 2020, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said this week. It added that the industry’s huge losses will continue into 2021.

“This crisis is devastating and unrelenting. Airlines have cut costs by 45.8 percent, but revenues are down 60.9 percent. The result is that airlines will lose $66 for every passenger carried this year for a total net loss of $118.5 billion. This loss will be reduced sharply by $80 billion in 2021. But the prospect of losing $38.7 billion next year is nothing to celebrate,” said IATA Director General and CEO Alexandre de Juniac.

He added: “We need to get borders safely re-opened without quarantine so that people will fly again. And with airlines expected to bleed cash at least until the fourth quarter of 2021, there is no time to lose.”

According to the IATA, in the face of a half-trillion-dollar revenue drop (from $838 billion in 2019 to $328 billion), airlines cut costs by $365 billion (from $795 billion in 2019 to $430 billion in 2020).

“The history books will record 2020 as the industry’s worst financial year, bar none. Airlines cut expenses by an average of a billion dollars a day over 2020 and will still rack-up unprecedented losses. Were it not for the $173 billion in financial support by governments, we would have seen bankruptcies on a massive scale,” said de Juniac.

While the industry will see an improved performance in 2021 compared to 2020, “the road to recovery is expected to be long and difficult.” The association warned that passenger volumes are not expected to return to 2019 levels until 2024 at the earliest, with domestic markets recovering faster than international services.

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“The financial damage of this crisis is severe. Government support has kept airlines alive to this point. More is likely needed as the crisis is lasting longer than anyone could have anticipated. And it must come in forms that do not increase the already high debt load which has ballooned to $651 billion,” de Juniac said.

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