Airlines Received $215B In State Aid, IATA Says

Frankfurt Airport
Credit: Fraport AG

FRANKFURT–A year after the coronavirus pandemic forced airlines to shut down much of their operations, governments have pumped $215 billion in financial support into the sector, according to IATA. 

The association’s outgoing director general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac applauded governments for their help during a March 17 media briefing but urged them to continue their support.

“We see light at the end of a very long tunnel,” de Juniac said. However, “governments must stay engaged” in providing continued relief to airlines and stimulus measures to travelers encouraging them to resume flying. While de Juniac acknowledged the massive financial support, he criticized travel restrictions as having been implemented with no coordination, harmonization or consultation, and lamented that there has been “no improvement” in the way the wave of new coronavirus variants has been handled.

De Juniac urged governments to follow the example of the UK to come up with a restart plan for aviation that airlines can rely on. He also welcomed the European Union Green Pass initiative that was moved forward in the legislative process on March 17. “We should see something similar in other parts of the world,” de Juniac said.

The IATA CEO will end his term at the head of the association later in March, to be succeeded by former International Airlines Group (IAG) CEO Willie Walsh on April 1. 

With the travel restrictions continuing to be in place, IATA decided to move its annual general assembly from June to Oct. 3-5. The assembly is still to be held in Boston with JetBlue Airways as the host. De Juniac conceded that it would have been difficult to organize an in-person meeting in June.

IATA published new figures showing what de Juniac described as a “de-connection of the world.” Airlines operated on around 30,000 routes before the crisis. That number is now down to 12,000 and at much lower frequency. Each route was formerly served by an average of 43 flights per month, but now it is down to just 20—less than one per day. In domestic markets, the number of routes hardly changed, though average frequency also declined from 90 to 66 services per month.

In terms of capacity, the industry is now back to 1998 levels and revenues are back where they were in 1993. But de Juniac believes that “people will come back strongly and quickly” to flying. He does not think that restrictions and precautionary measures in place now will be permanent. “They were built to be temporary,” de Juniac said. 

Jens Flottau

Based in Frankfurt, Germany, Jens is executive editor and leads Aviation Week Network’s global team of journalists covering commercial aviation.