Written by Maria Niestadt,
The coronavirus pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on air transport in the European Union and the rest of the world. During the first wave, most Member States imposed entry or flight bans and other travel restrictions, bringing passenger flights almost to a standstill. However, many airports serving major cities stayed open for limited scheduled, humanitarian, repatriation, and cargo flights, and for aircraft parking. The drop in passenger flights has meant that the air freight sector has had to adjust to the situation by occasionally carrying cargo in passenger compartments. As the industry looks for ways to cut costs, it has announced job cuts and/or reduced work patterns, wage reductions and hiring freezes. A number of airlines have already declared bankruptcy.
With the public health situation improving in the EU by the summer of 2020, Member States started to lift some travel restrictions, allowing airlines to slowly resume operations while leaving in place numerous inconsistent and constantly changing travel rules and guidelines, limiting air travel significantly. In addition, airlines and airports apply strict health and sanitary measures that entail higher costs both for the industry and passengers. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) forecasts that airlines would lose about 66 % of their passengers and see total revenues drop by US$419 (€357) billion in 2020. The final impact of the crisis on air transport will depend on factors such as its duration and magnitude, the level of consumer confidence, and the stringency of the containment measures. In all likelihood, the sector will feel the effects well beyond 2020.
The EU has worked on several levels to help the sector meet the challenge, whether by publishing guidelines (e.g. on passenger rights) and recommendations, or by legislative work. One of the first measures it took was to change EU rules on the allocation of airport slots, so as to help airlines avoid flights with very low load factors. However, a lot of work still lies ahead, in particular regarding the coordination of travel restrictions. The European Commission has also authorised several national aid schemes for airlines and airports. However, this raises questions about fair competition and whether the aid should be linked to environmental considerations.
Read this complete briefing on ‘Air transport survival during the pandemic‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.
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