The financial fallout of the coronavirus pandemic on the air transport industry in the Middle East and Africa region is “getting worse,” a top official of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) warned on Thursday.
“The economic impact in the region has worsened during the last few weeks, especially as we entered the summer period, which is supposed to be a busy season. Aircraft is still grounded and [some markets still impose] lockdowns,” Muhammad Al Bakri, IATA’s regional vice president for Africa and the Middle East, said in a press briefing.
The comments come as carriers around the world are attempting to restart air travel. In the UAE, major airlines like Emirates and Etihad have already resumed passenger services on certain routes. The UAE is also preparing to welcome international visitors this month.
The latest figures from IATA showed that airline revenues in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region have dropped by 56 percent, while passenger numbers have fallen by 54 percent.
The revenue passenger kilometres (RPKs) in the Middle East also posted the biggest decline worldwide, at 97.9 percent in May, compared with 82.7 percent in Asia Pacific and 92.5 percent in North America.
If the situation is not reversed soon, Al Bakri warned that airlines in Africa will lose $42 and $37 in the Middle East for every passenger they carry this year.
“The situation is getting worse and worse. Airlines will continue to bleed. A lot of airlines both in Africa and the Middle East are already starting to lay off employees. [And it’s going to have a] domino effect in the region. We really need to reverse this cycle,” Al Bakri added.
Al Bakri noted that many people are still reluctant to travel, especially due to mandatory quarantine measures imposed by different countries.
In a recent survey, 85 percent of travellers are either very concerned or somewhat concerned about being quarantined while travelling. An almost equal number (84 percent) are also concerned about contracting the virus during their journey.
Al Bakri called on governments in the region to follow the prescribed guidelines for a harmonious, effective and safe restart to air travel and restore consumer confidence quickly.
He said the opening or closing of borders should also not be politicized and that the imposition of extra costs, such COVID-19 testing charges, should be discouraged.
(Reporting by Cleofe Maceda; editing by Seban Scaria)
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