A turbulent period for aviation sector
It is sad that the COVID-19 pandemic has battered the air transport sector, landing it in huge turbulence, grounding planes, resulting in layoffs, bankruptcies and rescue plans. AFP news agency has quoted the International air Transport Association (IATA) as estimating that global airlines will lose as much as $314 billion in 2020 revenues. That’s a 55 per cent dive compared to 2019. Adding to the concern, air traffic is not expected to bounce back to where it stood before the virus until 2023. Latin America’s largest airline LATAM, which has more than 42,000 employees, has become the latest carrier to file for bankruptcy. This has come just two weeks after Colombia’s Avianca, which has 20,000 staff, also filed for bankruptcy in the US to reorganise its debt. Separately, Air Canada plans to lay off more than half of its workforce, or at least 19,000 employees. British Airways will shed 12,000 jobs or 30 per cent of its workforce, US Delta air Lines will carry out 10,000 redundancies (11 per cent), while Scandinavia’s SAS will lay off 5,000 jobs (40 per cent). Other job losses will come at United Airlines in the US (3,450 officials), Britain’s Virgin Atlantic (3,150), Ireland’s Ryanair (3,000) and Aer Lingus (900), Icelandair (2,000), Brussels Airlines (1,000), Hungary’s Wizz air (1,000) and Fiji Airways (758). The damage is not limited to airlines. US plane manufacturer Boeing has announced 16,000 layoffs. In the engine sector, US manufacturer General Electric and Britain’s Rolls-Royce have also slashed 12,600 and 9,000 jobs respectively. Air France-KLM will slash 40 per cent of its French domestic flights by next year in exchange for receiving seven billion euros in emergency coronavirus funding backed by the French state. The French government has made any bailout contingent on profitability improvements at the airline and a reduction in its carbon emissions, which have become a key target of environmental advocates.
Fortunately, efforts are on across the globe to rise above the troubled times. Airlines are starting to restore services to some destinations and plan more route openings in an expected easing of travel restrictions. Scandinavian airline SAS plans to resume some of its suspended flights in the first half of June as a growing number of countries start to ease COVID-19 travel restrictions. Ukrainian low-cost airline SkyUp is finding strength in a crisis after converting most of its planes to carry cargo to keep its fleet in the skies. Eight of its eleven orange-and-white 737-800 and 900 Boeing planes have had seats removed and nets placed in between the remaining rows to carry freight. China is considering increasing international flights as long as imported coronavirus risks are under control. The maximum number of international flights now allowed is 134 a week under restrictions imposed on March 29 to stop cases of the novel coronavirus being imported. But the number is expected to be increased to 407 a week from June 1. Separately, the European Union aviation Safety Agency has published the guidelines last week in conjunction with the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control with the goal of allowing air travel to resume under safe conditions, both operationally and from a public health point of view. With increasing realisation that the virus is not leaving anytime soon, the world seems to be rethinking on effective ways to live with it even while evading it. The aviation industry is crucial for a globally knitted world and sooner it rises above the challenges, the better.