Long-haul flights unlikely to resume until fourth quarter: IATA chief

Flying between continents is unlikely to be possible for commercial passengers until the end of this year, according to the head of the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Speaking to CNBC’s “Street Signs Europe” on Wednesday, Alexandre de Juniac, director general of the IATA — the trade association representing 290 airlines and 82% of global air traffic — said the organization had seen “two phases” of the industry attempting to navigate the coronavirus crisis.

“Four weeks ago, the sector was in a complete disaster, with a very pessimistic outlook and a very pessimistic vision of the future,” he said. “The airlines were not planning to return to service quickly.”

However, de Juniac told CNBC that for the past week or two, some optimism had trickled back into the industry — particularly in Europe and the U.S. — as countries and states began to reopen their economies.

European and American airlines were now planning to increase capacity more than expected, he said.

The IATA’s de Juniac predicted that short-haul flights — for example between European countries — were likely to be possible this summer, but he added that “for intercontinental flights you should, I think, wait for the fourth quarter.”

‘Worst year in the history of aviation’

Despite an increasingly optimistic outlook from the industry and rising demand for flight bookings, the IATA’s latest report detailed a grim picture for airlines as the Covid-19 pandemic weighed.

Published Tuesday, the IATA’s financial outlook for the global air transport industry said airlines were expected to lose $84.3 billion this year.

“Financially, 2020 will go down as the worst year in the history of aviation,” de Juniac said in the report. “On average, every day of this year will add $230 million to industry losses.”

Revenues across the industry were predicted to fall by 50% to $419 billion in 2020, according to the guidance, down from $838 billion in 2019.

The IATA said it expected losses to decrease to $15.8 billion in 2021, with revenues for next year expected to reach $598 billion.

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