IATA Calls for Rapid Covid Tests as Europe Struggles

 - November 25, 2020, 10:46 AM

This story is part of AIN's continuing coverage of the impact of the coronavirus on aviation.

Europe’s air transport sector is facing a slow climb to recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic with no positive traffic and revenue numbers anticipated until the last quarter of 2021, according to IATA. On the last day of its 76th annual general meeting, Rafael Schvartzman, the industry group’s regional vice president for Europe, said that it now projects that only Africa and the Middle East will have even worse performance. He said that full recovery will likely take until 2024.

While IATA sees a worldwide fall in revenue passenger kilometers in 2020 of 66 percent, the decline for Europe is expected to be at least 70 percent. The group reported that Russia and Turkey, both of which have large domestic markets, have seen less impact from Covid than countries such as Spain, France, Italy, Germany, and the UK, which had seen the highest growth rates in the previous five years. Before the pandemic, IATA logged 9,010 city pair connections out of Europe and this fell more than fourfold by April 2020 to just 2,110.

IATA forecasts that average load factors in Europe will have dipped to 63.8 percent by the end of 2020 and will be just 65.6 percent in 2021. The breakeven target for this year is 88 percent, although, after aggressive cost-cutting by carriers, this is expected to drop to 71.9 percent in 2021.

Schvarztman told reporters that “some airlines won’t make it through this crisis.” He predicted further industry consolidation and changes to fleets as companies get rid of more costly older aircraft.

IATA has again insisted this week that governments must remove quarantine restrictions that continue to be a severe impediment to flight bookings and replace these with rapid antigen Covid tests that can be conducted on the day of travel. Schvartzman pointed to recent trials in Greece and Italy that he said have proven the efficacy of this approach while revealing that passenger infection rates are very low by comparison with those for the wider population.

In the next few days, following talks with airport industry groups and slot coordinators, IATA intends to make a formal case to regulators to extend slot allocation waivers through the end of the 2021 summer season. The waivers prevent airlines from losing slots that they are unable to use due to the steep decline in traffic volumes.

“We need a long slot waiver and, considering the high level of uncertainty, we urge [governments] to allow flexibility,” said Schvartzman. “Currently, there is no framework allowing airlines to plan a restart of services. It’s hard to have a solid plan if you are not clear on how things are going to be working so we will ask the regulators to make urgent decisions.”