BOSTON, Oct. 5 (Reuters) – Global airlines closed their first meeting on Tuesday since COVID-19 brought their industry to its knees, expressing optimism over pent-up but desperate demand that governments harmonize rambling border rules to avoid to fall back into recession.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA), which brings together 290 airlines, said confusion over travel restrictions was holding back the fragile recovery of the industry after the pandemic plunged air travel into its worst ever downturn. .
“People want to fly. We’ve seen strong evidence of that,” said general manager Willie Walsh. “They can’t fly because we have restrictions that hinder international travel.”
IATA expects international travel to double next year from depressed levels seen during the pandemic and reach 44% of pre-crisis 2019 levels. In contrast, domestic travel is expected to reach 93% of pre-pandemic levels.
The trade group, which includes dozens of common carriers, blamed the discrepancy on the wide variations in entry rules and testing requirements in the top 50 air travel markets.
Even some of the airline and leasing executives who were trying to attend the annual industry gathering in Boston were unable to travel or had to set aside extra time for quarantine.
Airlines have called for an end to restrictions on vaccinated travelers and common health protocols at borders, although global coordination in aviation tends to evolve at a deliberate pace.
“Frankly, governments have not made it easy for airlines or the traveling public to figure out what the rules are for flying,” said Joanna Geraghty, president of JetBlue (JBLU.O) who organized the rally at a hotel. shared with domestic tourists. .
Despite this, the UAE chief from Dubai, who has been among the most optimistic leaders about the prospects for recovery once restrictions are lifted, said reservations in markets that would reopen like Britain and the United States had “increased exponentially”.
“This reflects a wave of demand that we are seeing everywhere,” said chairman Tim Clark. “The demand for air travel will recover … as soon as possible.”
Airlines were spurred on by the Biden administration’s plan to reopen the United States in November to air travelers from 33 countries, including Europe, on the vital transatlantic route.
But the airlines left the Boston rally as they arrived, with very strained balance sheets, and Clark said most would remain risk averse and focus on collecting cash for 2-3 years.
IATA has warned that serious challenges remain for carriers, while expressing the frustration of airports and other providers for not doing enough to share the pain inflicted by the crisis.
Although the White House has not set a date for lifting travel restrictions on Europeans, JetBlue expects it to happen before the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States next month.
“If the reopening is delayed, we will face consequences across the industry,” CEO Robin Hayes said after chairing the October 3-5 conference, which also agreed on a goal to reach zero net emission in 2050.
United Airlines (UAL.O) chief executive Scott Kirby said transatlantic flight bookings last week were higher than at the same time in 2019.
The world’s largest leasing company AerCap (AER.N) said a successful reopening of the world’s largest long-haul market would set a trend for other markets to follow.
“Airlines … don’t have the resilience they used to have,” CEO Aengus Kelly told an audience of airline executives. “They just can’t afford to let this go wrong.”
Reporting by Rajesh Kumar Singh and Tim Hepher; Editing by Bill Berkrot
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