Walsh believes that, generally, airlines did a great job in coping with COVID-19. “The media focuses on the areas that went wrong and ignore the areas that went right,” he said. “Airlines didn’t fail. Elements of the industry failed but not everybody.”
Walsh expressed a concern about airports in the recovery period, particularly Heathrow and Amsterdam Schiphol. But systemic changes aren’t needed, he said, and airlines are in good shape. “Many of the challenges, such as costs, are business as usual,” he opined.
Nane suggested that Türkiye handled the pandemic well. The key to this, he said, was avoiding redundancies, as aviation needs clearly defined skills. Pilots need seven years to train, for example. It would be impossible to let experienced staff go and then start again. “This is why Türkiye is recovering faster than elsewhere,” he said.
Both panellists concurred that government policies have influenced how well their respective countries and air transport industries have fared in the recovery period.
Looking ahead, Nane said that 2023 will be challenging from a demand perspective in Europe due to the high cost of living reducing disposable income. People will look for value in travel.
Sustainability will inevitably be crucial. Airlines made a commitment to Fly Net Zero at the height of the crisis in 2021 knowing that a massive cost would be involved. Airlines understand that they need be to environmentally sustainable as well as financially sustainable.
Within Europe, governments again need to ensure they make positive and not negative decisions regarding aviation. Cutting flights of 500km or less to transfer to rail would only account for about 4% of CO2. A Single European Sky (SES), however, would reduce carbon emissions 10%. And yet the SES concept has been stalled for decades.
Referring to European mandates for sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), Walsh accepted that the pathway to achieve the industry’s 2050 goal was based principally on SAF. “But airlines don’t need to be told to buy SAF,” he said. “They bought every single drop of SAF in 2021 and they will buy every single drop of SAF in 2022.”
He called for incentives to help producers increase the supply of SAF.
Mehmet T. Nane, IATA Board of Governors Chair and Vice-Chair and Managing Director of Pegasus Airlines
Willie Walsh, IATA Director General
Mark Pilling, Independent Aviation Journalist (Moderator)