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Airlines face $47.7b loss in 2021, worse than earlier forecast: IATA


Alitalia workers demonstrate in downtown Rome as unions are discussing with the government the future to relaunch the Italian airline carrier Alitalia on Wednesday. Associated Press

Airlines face another bleak year with steeper losses than previously forecast, as some regions struggle to speed up Covid-19 vaccination campaigns and control virus variants, an industry group said on Wednesday.

The industry is expected to register net post-tax losses of $47.7 billion (39.7 billion euros) in 2021, greater than the $38 billion forecast in December, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

On a brighter note, IATA slightly raised its forecast for global air passenger traffic, saying it would reach 43 per cent of pre-pandemic levels this year -- compared to around 33 to 38 per cent forecast in February.

“Financial performance will be worse and more varied this year than we expected in our December forecast, because of difficulties in controlling the virus variants and slower vaccination in some regions,” the association said in a report.

IATA said it now expected “much more limited” flying during the key summer season, when people take to the air on holiday.

Airlines lost more than $126 billion last year as the Covid-19 crisis prompted countries to lock down cities, close borders and ban international flights.

IATA expects more people to fly in 2021, with 2.4 billion passengers compared to 1.8 billion in 2020.

It still remains far from pre-pandemic air traffic: some 4.5 billion people travelled by plane in 2019. Europe worse than US - The picture varies between regions.

North American airlines will fare better than previously thought, with losses of $5 billion instead of $11 billion, thanks to the recovery of the domestic market there, IATA said.

But the outlook has worsened in Europe due to a slower vaccination campaign and less easing of international travel restrictions.

European airlines are now tipped to lose $22 billion, compared to $12 billion in the earlier forecast.

Meanwhile, passenger volume at European airports is only expected to return to pre-pandemic levels in 2025, a year later than previously expected, according to industry group ACI Europe.

IATA expects zero growth in international passenger travel this year, but a better performance for airlines with large domestic markets such as North America, Latin America, and Asia-Pacific, thanks to a lack of travel restrictions within borders.

Airlines are expected to burn though $81 billion in cash this year.

While large airlines have raised sufficient cash to cover this, smaller ones have not and will need government aid or to raise more money from banks or capital markets, adding to the industry’s debt burden, IATA said.

“The outlook for international air travel depends critically on the vaccination rollout,” the industry body said.

“In some countries that is positive, but the pace of the rollout is very slow in others, particularly in developing economies.”

Separately, United Airlines last Monday reported a bigger-than-expected $2.4 billion adjusted net loss for the first quarter, as fuel costs rose and the airline operated fewer flights amid continued weak demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Average fuel cost climbed nearly 30% to $1.74 per gallon in the quarter from the previous three months, while passenger traffic fell 52% compared to the same period in 2020. The World Health Organization did not declare COVID-19 a pandemic until near the end of the first quarter in 2020.

United Airlines said it expects fuel costs to rise by another 5% in the second quarter.

The airline, however, forecast a return to profitability later this year and said it expects to restore some capacity cuts as more people are willing to travel. Capacity should reach 45% of 2019’s level in the second quarter from 2019, United said.

United’s adjusted net loss was about $2.40 billion for the first quarter, compared with analysts’ average estimate for a loss of about $2.23 billion, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby said in a statement the airline now sees “a clear path to profitability.”

Rival Delta Air too had pointed to higher fuel costs in part for its quarterly loss and pinned its hope on profitability later in 2021 as rapid COVID-19 vaccinations are expected to boost air travel.

United said earlier on Monday that it was adding three flights to Croatia, Greece and Iceland, which are among countries reopening for vaccinated travelers.

VIRGIN ATLANTIC: Virgin Atlantic will be back flying all its planes by October or November this year, said its chief executive Shai Weiss, forecasting that the end of the pandemic crisis for airlines was now in sight.

“We are by no means out of this situation, we will only be satisfied, or at least know that we really move a notch, when all our planes are in the sky, we turn as many people back into flying and operating our flights, which I expect that to be in October or November of this year,” Weiss told an online conference on Wednesday.

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