After more than a year in lockdown, people are hungry to travel. And from an economic perspective, it’s vital aviation restarts as soon as it is safe to do so

The past year has tested our industry as never before. The global tragedy of COVID-19, which has taken some 2.7 million lives and left many economies in ruin, did not spare aviation. The scale of damage exceeds the combined impact of 9-11, SARS, and the global financial crisis.

In terms of passenger demand, we are back to 1998 levels—a 66% fall from pre-crisis levels. And passenger revenue in 2020 regressed 27 years! We estimate industry losses topped $118 billion last year; and more than 1 million jobs went away. Some $225 billion in government fi nancial relief has been a lifeline for many airlines, with more likely to be needed before the crisis is over.

Our industry was able to persevere. We continue to facilitate vital travel, including repatriations. And air cargo became a lifeline, as demand for medical equipment and pharmaceuticals soared. Today some of our most precious cargo are the vaccines that hold so much promise. As vaccine programs ramp up, I hope I’m not tempting fate by suggesting that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

After a year in lockdown people are hungry for the freedom to travel. And those who have traveled even during the pandemic give us confi dence that they will feel safe doing so. A recent poll of people who have traveled since last June shows that 90% believe that the airlines have done a good job in enforcing health and safety rules. The same poll showed that about 57% of travelers will be ready to fly within a few months of the pandemic being contained. But we aren’t there yet. And much remains to be done:

  • Testing and/or vaccinations must replace quarantine measures. So long as we have quarantine there will be no restart. Test those who cannot or do not wish to be vaccinated and allow the vaccinated to travel without restriction.
  • Secure digital standards need to be agreed and accepted by governments to manage testing and vaccination documentation. We’re ready with IATA Travel Pass, which is already being tested.
  • Lastly, we need a plan. It’s critical that governments share their benchmarks and roadmaps for restarting aviation so that airlines and our industry partners are ready to go when borders reopen.

It’s important aviation restarts as soon as borders can open safely. The economic imperatives of that are well documented. Aviation will energize the economic recovery by putting people back to work. More broadly, we have seen that a world denied the freedom to fl y is much poorer—not just economically, but socially, mentally, and culturally as well.

Aviation is the business of freedom. That has been my greatest motivation in leading IATA. As I hand over to Willie Walsh, my successor, I am confi dent that people have not lost the desire to explore new places, to build global businesses, to make new connections or to reconnect with friends and family. Aviation is unique in enabling all this, and much more. Every fl ight that takes off is full of amazing possibilities. Regaining the freedom to fly will be challenging, but the most important things often are.

Alexandre de Juniac: Director General and CEO, IATA