In a statement issued by Alexandre de Juniac, CEO and Director General of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), as early as July 2020, the stark reality of the year 2020 in the history of the aviation industry was made plain:
“Financially, 2020 will go down as the worst year in the history of aviation. On average, every day of this year will add $230m to industry losses. In total that’s a loss of $84.3bn. It means that – based on an estimate of 2.2 billion passengers this year – airlines will lose $37.54 per passenger”
He went on:
“Provided there is not a second and more damaging wave of COVID-19, the worst of the collapse in traffic is likely behind us. A key to the recovery is universal implementation of the re-start measures agreed through the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to keep passengers and crew safe. And, with the help of effective contact tracing, these measures should give governments the confidence to open borders without quarantine measures. That’s an important part of the economic recovery because about 10% of the world’s GDP is from tourism and much of that depends on air travel. Getting people safely flying again will be a powerful economic boost,”.
ICAO on impact of Covid-19
Sadly, the second half of 2020 did not, for many countries, deliver a recovery but a deeper and in places worse second wave. It is now possible to estimate the impact of the virus over the course of the whole year 2020. The ICAO the International Civil Aviation Organisation is a specialist agency of the United Nations. It is supported by 193 national governments to manage global air transportation. It was created by the Chicago Convention in 1944. On January 20th, 2021 it published its latest report on the impact of the Effects of Novel Coronavirus (COVID‐19) on Civil Aviation: Economic Impact Analysis. The report is produced by the Economic Development section of the Air Transport Bureau, based in Montréal, Canada.
The ICAO had been reporting regularly over the course of the Covid-19 outbreak to try to estimate the potential effects on the civil aviation industry. The primary focus of the reports has been civil aviation and scheduled flights by state and private airlines. They have not attempted to model what the response might be to the industry in terms of change and innovation.
Their first report looked at the potential impact of the outbreak on domestic Chinese aviation. It appeared on 21st February 2020. Throughout the year regular reports performed two distinct functions. The first was to measure and explain the impact of the outbreak as it unfolded. For example, a report later in February 2020 looked at the impact on the South Korean industry in detail. The second was to try and measure and predict the impact of the outbreak by modelling different levels of intensity.
For example in March it filed a report exploring in detail a set of scenarios based on the impact of different lockdown regimes in different countries:
- Scenario Analysis: Mainland China
- Scenario Analysis: Hong Kong and Macao SARs of China and Taiwan, Province of China
- Summary of Scenario Analysis and Additional Estimates: China
- Scenario Analysis: Republic of Korea
- Scenario Analysis: Italy
- Scenario Analysis: Iran (Islamic Republic of)
These scenarios begin from the premise outlined in the OECD report published in March 2020 that the global economic position was stabilising just before the Covid-19 outbreak began. To have such a significant impact in China, were GDP growth dipped below 5% and then in other countries as they imposed lockdowns. The methodology slowly evolved over the year and the scenarios were adapted to the impact of the second wave. The small silver lining contained in the summary of the year has been the recovery in domestic flights in some geographies. For example, both China and Russia have returned to pre-Covid 19 levels of passengers. But the global figures for 2020 still make stark reading and the predictions based on the different scenarios are not optimistic.
Compared to 2019 the global scheduled passenger traffic for year 2020 saw an overall reduction in the number of seats offered by 50%. There was a reduction of the number of passengers by 2,690 million passengers or 60%. An estimated loss of operating revenues by airlines of $370billion. In terms of domestic passenger traffic there was an overall reduction of 38% in the number of seats offered by airlines. An overall reduction of 1,314 million in passengers (-50%) with a loss of revenue of approximately $120 billion. For International passenger traffic the estimate for the year is worse. There was an overall reduction of 66% in the number of seats offered by airlines. An overall reduction of 1,376 million passengers down a massive 74% and a loss of revenue of $250 billion.
Prospects for 2021
The report concluded by looking into first and second quarter of 2021. The range for a year on year reduction in seat capacity in Q1 of 2021 was 72% with this recovering to a fall of 49% in Q2. That would still see 307m fewer passengers flying internationally in the first half of the year generating revenue that was $54billion down. But for the domestic market, the figures are projected to be healthier in the most optimistic of the scenarios used. By the second quarter of 2021 the report estimated that domestic flights would be globally down by 20% with 188m fewer passengers flying and a $17billion drop in revenue. It could be that improvements in the rate of vaccinations provide for a better than forecast recovery in these figures. But new strains may also continue to have a dampening effect on the willingness of people to travel for leisure, while business travel will be depressed by the rise of online working practices and cargo movements might remain static because of generally low levels of economic activity.
2021 does promise to be better than 2020 but there will be a long road back to full recovery of the airline industry.
Victor Țopa of German Aviation Capital