Governments must get behind efforts to restore confidence in aviation: IATA

Passenger at the airport.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) believes it is time to plan for a post-COVID-19 world, with the association urging the public sector to get behind efforts to restore confidence in aviation.

IATA director general and chief executive Alexandre de Juniac said passenger confidence will suffer a double whammy even after the pandemic is contained, “hit by personal economic concerns in the face of a looming recession on top of lingering concerns about the safety of travel”.

It comes as a survey of recent travellers by the association discovered most could delay their plans to fly after the coronavirus pandemic is contained.

Of those surveyed, 60 per cent anticipate a return to travel within one to two months of containment of the COVID-19 pandemic, but 40 per cent indicate that they could wait six months or more.

Furthermore, 69 per cent indicated that they could delay a return to travel until their personal financial situation stabilises.

“People still want to travel, but they are telling us that they want clarity on the economic situation and will likely wait for at least a few months after any ‘all clear’ before returning to the skies,” de Juniac said.

“As countries lift restrictions, confidence-boosting measures will be critical to re-start travel and stimulate economies.”

It’s a sentiment shared industry-wide, with the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) last week releasing a campaign aimed at uniting the tourism industry and inspiring travellers.

“Dreaming is part of our zest for life and our new campaign encourages thoughts of the brighter days ahead,” WTTC president and chief executive Gloria Guevara said.

It remains unclear what kind of financial contributions IATA would expect governments to put forward for aviation’s recovery.

However, the association said it is currently conducting summits with the public sector and industry partners to begin planning for an eventual restart of the air transport industry.

As it stands, IATA predicts passenger revenues will be US$314 billion ($491 billion) below 2019. Airlines are also expected to burn through about US$61 billion (more than $95 billion) in liquidity in this year’s second quarter alone.

According to data shared by Statista, global passenger revenues for 2019 reached around US$561 billion (more than $877 billion), which was lower than IATA’s financial expectations for that year.

Weaker global GDP growth, a continued trade stand-off between the United States and China, geopolitical tensions and social unrest, and uncertainty surrounding Brexit had contributed to this.

IATA has likewise renewed calls for emergency financial relief to save airlines.

“This is an emergency. Airlines around the world are struggling to survive. Virgin Australia which entered voluntary administration demonstrates that this risk is not theoretical,” de Juniac said.

“Governments will need financially viable airlines to lead the economic recovery. Many of them won’t be around to do that if they have run out of cash.”

But while IATA has called for a confidence-boost, a heightened fear of flying had been present before the COVID-19 pandemic, with 176 passengers killed in the downing of Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) Flight PS752 by Iran’s military in January.

The continued unfolding of the Boeing 737 MAX saga has also played its part, beginning with the fatal crashes of two of the jets in October 2018 and March 2019. The once best-selling jet has remained grounded since then, with the manufacturer’s reputation in disarray.

In March, this year, the US House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure identified five factors that played a part in the crashes, including a culture of concealment and production pressures.

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