As months without revenues are threatening to force some airlines out of business, global airlines are trying to get to grips with a post-COVID world and what’s to come.
The international body representing global airlines has supported the idea of passengers wearing masks onboard in the post-COVID world, as debate continues over how to get airlines flying again and restore customer trust.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said Tuesday that the compulsory wearing of masks would help protect passengers, but the body argued against leaving middle seats empty on aircraft, a measure it had previously said was likely necessary. At the same time, months without revenues is threatening to force some airlines out of business.
Major carriers struggling
Britain’s Virgin Atlantic said Tuesday that it would cut 3,150 jobs as it struggles to survive. British Airways said last week it could shed up to 12,000, a move viewed by some as a pressuring tactic for regulators to agree rules for a quick restart when conditions allow.
Also on Tuesday, Lufthansa Chief Executive Carsten Spohr told shareholders at the company’s virtual annual general meeting that Europe’s largest airline did not plan on buying up rivals weakened by the crisis.
Lufthansa, which is preparing to restart passenger flights slowly from June, is currently in talks with governments about a roughly 10 billion euro bailout and Spohr said that he expected a deal to be made with the German government shortly.
“Our focus is on stabilizing Lufthansa in its current form and not on acquiring other airlines,” he said at the AGM.
Travel bans have forced the German carrier to ground 700 of its aircraft, leading to a 99% drop in passenger numbers and causing the group, which includes Swiss, Austrian Airlines and Brussels Airlines, to lose about $1.1 million in liquidity reserves per hour.
The “new normal”
The IATA said Tuesday it was collaborating with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the United Nations aviation agency, governments, and the World Health Organization on new rules which would apply to the global airline industry.
The ICAO could make an announcement on mandatory face masks and other health measures in June, IATA Director General Alexandre de Juniac said at an online news conference.
In April, de Juniac had said leaving the middle seat on aircraft empty was among the likely measures to be taken, yet Brian Pearce, chief economist at IATA, said Tuesday that most airlines would be unable to make money if a third of their seats were removed.
IATA’s medical advisor David Powell insisted that the decision taken would ultimately be a scientific rather than an economic one.
“Nobody has demonstrated that having the middle seat empty reduces the chance of transmitting covid-19 from one person to another,” he said.
IATA will, however, recommend wearing masks and face coverings onboard as well as screening passengers before flying to make sure they did not have a fever, along with enhanced cleaning procedures and limited movement in the cabin.
Medical advisor Powell also said the recycled air that circulates on passenger jets was not an issue because in modern jets it was treated by the same sort of filter used in operating theaters.