* IATA director general Willie Walsh says air transport industry continue to be hampered by restrictions that many Mideast governments have imposed on people travelling
Carriers in the Middle East lost $7.9bn last year, which represented 6.5% of the global losses in 2020, IATA director general Willie Walsh said on Thursday.
“The situation will improve in 2021. But we continue to be hampered by restrictions that many governments (in the region) have imposed on people travelling,” Walsh said at a media roundtable yesterday.
Aviation in the Middle East has been devastated by the pandemic, he said.
“I think it's fair to say that the crisis we are facing now is not necessarily one that is driven by the pandemic. It is more as a result of the ongoing restrictions on travel that governments have imposed around the world. And this is clearly having a big impact on international markets, which is particularly relevant for airlines based in the Middle East,” Walsh noted.
He noted 2020 was a terrible year for the industry; passenger traffic globally fell by 66%. For carriers in the Middle East, it was down by 72%, again reflecting the very large international market.
In the US, the domestic market represents about 66% of passenger traffic. In Europe, it's 11%. And in the Middle East, it's only 3%; the smallest domestic market, in the context of global markets.
“And what we have seen during 2020, and continuing into 2021, is a strong recovery in domestic markets,” Walsh noted.
The big domestic markets like China, and the US, which together historically would represent about 23-24% of global traffic, have recovered to 2019 levels already, and in fact, are growing above the 2019 levels.
“So domestic markets are recovering, which will benefit those carriers with large domestic markets, but international travel continues to be depressed.”
In April, international travel was down by 87%. This, he noted, is a “significant” decline in April compared with the same period in 2019.
For the region, it was down by 83%, slightly better than the global average, but still very, very significant.
Carriers in the Middle East represent about 13% to 14% of the international aviation, so the region is a big player in the international market in 2020.
Despite the decline in traffic during the crisis Middle East carriers represented about 15% of international traffic in 2020, their share of international traffic actually increased in 2020. “This was largely down to some of the big carriers like Qatar Airways and Emirates, in particular, who continued to operate significant networks during the pandemic, and facilitating quite a lot of international connectivity, where other airlines were either unable to operate or stopped operating for financial reasons,” Walsh said.
On many countries allowing fully vaccinated people to travel without restriction, he said, “It is very encouraging. Several countries have now formally stated that they will allow people who are fully vaccinated to travel without restriction. And I think that's to be welcomed. That's a very positive development. But clearly, we can't have the situation where only people who have been vaccinated are able to travel internationally.
“We recognise that in addition to restrictions being removed for vaccinated customers, we need to see a sensible testing regime in place, or what is killing demand - quarantine requirements and significant cost associated with testing.”
Walsh added, “When these restrictions are removed, we see an immediate response from markets. The good news is that we're very confident that when restrictions are relaxed or removed, we will see a rebound in traffic. Hence the reason we are forecasting an improvement in 2021 over 2020 forecast losses.”