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French flight boss: Air travel ‘not normal’ until 2023

Air travel will not return to normal until the start of 2023, former CEO of Air France and current director of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has said as he detailed new health measures for the industry.

Alexandre de Juniac became head of IATA in 2016 after five years as CEO and Chairman of Air France and later Air France-KLM.

He made the prediction in an interview with newspaper Le Monde, as he outlined a number of suggestions to enable air travel to restart after the Covid-19 crisis, while avoiding the need for quarantines.

Mr de Juniac said that the reopening of international borders would need to be coordinated regionally, if not worldwide, and be done in cooperation with the travel and airline industries.

Global measures

He said that the IATA - which includes 293 airline companies - has worked with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) and global governments, to create a “task force” to restart the industry, to introduce health checks for safety on board, and to avoid the virus from spreading from country to country.

These measures are currently being finalised. They have already been widely approved by governments of 21 countries, including France, the USA, China and the UK. They are set to be announced to the public on Monday June 1 (tomorrow). A guide detailing the measures will also be published.

Mr de Juniac said: “Health measures must be the same across countries, to avoid a risky and unworkable patchwork for companies.”

These measures include temperature checks on passengers on departure and arrival, mandatory wearing of a mask, disinfected planes, pre-packed food, only one cabin bag, limiting movement on board, and - eventually - declaration of health certificates.

He said: “We believe that if this system of checking and protecting that we advise is put in place, there will be no need to remove seats.”

Low-cost airlines

Mr de Juniac said that low-cost airlines were “more dynamic” and could therefore restart their activity “more rapidly”.

He said: “These companies have almost 100% short and medium-haul activity, but for regular companies, long-haul is much more important. Restarting long-haul will come later. Restarting short and medium haul will spread from the end of May to the end of 2020.

“In contrast, there will be no significant restart of long-haul before the end of the year. For IATA, we expect traffic to reach 50-60% of its 2019 level by the end of 2020.”

Mr de Juniac added that low-cost airlines could stand to profit and take parts of the industry from other companies, as larger firms such as Air France and Lufthansa look to reduce short-haul routes, he said.

He explained: “Low-cost airlines that are subsidiaries [of larger airlines], such as Transavia for Air France, or Eurowings for Lufthansa, could benefit from the withdrawal of their parent companies. Low-cost airlines have been on the rise in recent years, reaching at least half of the market in Europe, except in France, with only 42% to 43%.

“[But] this corresponds to a strong market demand to fly under attractive economic conditions, and with service and comfort levels limited by travel time.”

Industry loss and outlook

He said that IATA had calculated that the airline industry had lost an estimated USD $312 billion (€280 billion) in 2020 alone. He said: “That is a minimum for 2020. This number is more of a floor than a ceiling. It’s gigantic. Unprecedented.”

But Mr de Juniac added: “What is interesting is that the state of mind of airline companies is mirroring the evolution of the epidemic. Three weeks ago European transporters were very pessimistic but, for about a week, the horizon has brightened.

“We saw the same evolution among Asian transporters, but three weeks earlier. If we look at previous crises [for the industry], in general, recovery has been pretty quick.

“What makes predictions difficult, is that as well as the pandemic, we have a major economic recession that is hitting the entire world, and a very careful attitude among governments, especially when it comes to reopening borders and restricting international travel.”


The future of air travel?

Mr de Juniac concluded that the “world after” would “not be fundamentally different” to the “world before”, but that business travel would likely be more affected than tourism.

He said: “Home-working, the internet, video conferencing - this may encourage business people to travel a little less and use Internet tools, and companies to limit their travel budgets.”

Yet, he said that tourism would fare better, as “the desire for travel is still there”.

Mr de Juniac concluded: “The sector is still fragile. Everything will depend on how quickly things restart. That means the demand for airline tickets, but also the lifting of border restrictions, otherwise it won’t work. Governments have a major responsibility.”

Travel within France and Europe

In France, the second stage of deconfinement is set to begin tomorrow (Monday June 1), including a lifting of the previous 100km travel limit.

Airports across France are also planning to reopen to commercial travellers flying to destinations within France and in Europe in June, with restrictions on international travel within Europe set to be lifted on June 15.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has said: “France will look favourably on the reopening of interior borders in Europe from June 15, if the health situation permits, with no quarantine for visitors from European countries.”

Yet, France has said that it will impose voluntary “reciprocal” quarantines on arrivals from countries that demand their own quarantines on arrivals from France.

It is not yet clear when international borders beyond Europe - and into long-haul destinations - will reopen.

Speaking in early May, President Macron said: “We will limit major international travel, even during the summer holidays. We will stay among Europeans, and we may need to reduce it even more. There are restrictions, and that is to be expected. We have not won the battle against the virus. It is still there, we have just slowed it down.”

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