IATA urges Mideast governments to prepare roadmap to ‘restart’ aviation
The International Air Transport Association has urged governments in the Middle East “to work together to develop a roadmap to restart aviation to enable a safe, orderly and timely restart.”
At a roundtable for the region’s media on Thursday, IATA director general Willie Walsh said: “Meaningful restart also entails working towards restoring connectivity to a country’s largest origin and destination (O&D). Saudi Arabia has opened reportedly on May 17, yet its key markets of Pakistan, India, Egypt, UAE and Indonesia will remain suspended, which may hamper recovery.”
He said establishing operational restart plans, both nationally and regionally, is critical. A regional overview is needed to ensure that one country’s restart qualifications are accepted by its regional partners and ensure that sufficient infrastructure capacity is ready to meet demand as markets unlock.
Highlighting the importance of aviation to the region’s economy, Walsh said, ‘The aviation sector contributed $213bn to Middle East GDP in the pre-Covid-period.
Aviation supports 3.3mn jobs, including nearly 0.6mn aviation jobs.
Restoring air connectivity is vital. Replacing quarantine with testing is key:
The majority of countries in the Middle East have opened their borders to regional and international air travel (as of May), but 10 of these still have quarantine in place, meaning borders are effectively closed (as of May).
Covid-19 has put the region’s 1.7mn jobs and $105bn in GDP at risk.
He said Middle East airlines have been challenged by the importance of connecting traffic over GCC hubs and elsewhere, since long-haul air travel markets have been slowest to reopen.
In the Middle East, Walsh noted passenger airline revenues were down 65% in January and February of this year compared to the same period in 2019. Total traffic was down 81% below pre-pandemic levels for the January-March period. International traffic from the region was down a massive 82% in the same period.
He said total debt of the region’s airlines rose from $430bn at year-end 2019 to $651bn at year-end 2020 and noted “ongoing financial relief was essential.”
“In 2020, a handful of airlines in the Middle East secured $4.8bn in government aid. Most of this support ($4.1bn) was distributed through direct cash injections. Despite this several airlines in the Middle East remain at risk of bankruptcy or business administration. Financial relief has not been uniform across the region. Governments that have provided relief will need to be prepared for more.
“We’ve gone through a deep crisis; we are still very much in crisis mode. But as I said, the crisis today is because of the restrictions that are preventing international travel from recovering. Once those restrictions are removed, we expect to see a strong recovery, which will of course be of significant benefit to carriers in the Middle East, given the profile of the network that the carriers there have,” Walsh added.