Aviation has been devastated by the pandemic. Globally, airlines have lost in excess of $126bn in 2020. Last year, passenger traffic globally fell by 66%.
For carriers in the Middle East, it was down by 72%, again reflecting the very large international market.
Carriers in the region, lost $7.9bn in 2020, which is about 6.5% of the total global losses.
And just to put it into context, 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%, so the smallest domestic market when we look at it in the context of global markets.
Carriers in the Middle East represent up to 14% of the international aviation, so the region was 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, says global body of airlines – IATA.
This, according to IATA director general Willie Walsh, 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.
At a recent briefing for the region’s media, Walsh 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.”
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.”
It is a matter of relief that the industry is seeing very encouraging signs in some parts of the world. Several countries have now formally stated that they will allow people who are fully vaccinated to travel without restriction.
While that is certainly a very positive development, industry experts argue that we can’t have a situation, wherein only people who have been vaccinated are able to travel internationally.
More so because vaccine rollouts have been tardy in many countries around the world, particularly within the low and middle income group. That means, many people in those countries who want to get vaccinated may not have access to that.
That makes it imperative that in addition to restrictions being removed for vaccinated customers, we must see a sensible testing regime in place, or what is killing demand – quarantine requirements and significant costs associated with testing.
When restrictions are either relaxed or removed, the industry will certainly see a much-needed rebound in traffic!
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