Airlines can expect to bleed up to $157 billion in losses until people fly normally again, making 2020 the worst year in aviation history, industry body IATA says

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  • Airlines will rack up losses up to $157 billion until borders reopen safely and a vaccine rolls out, the International Air Transport Association predicted.
  • The loss will be five times the deficit racked up during the 2008 financial recession.
  • The slump in revenue during the pandemic shows airlines will lose $66 for every passenger carried this year, the association said.
  • “The history books will record 2020 as the industry’s worst financial year, bar none,” IATA’s CEO said.
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Airlines will keep racking up losses into next year, as the industry expects the distribution of vaccines to take a while before flying returns to normal.

The International Air Transport Association this week predicted a worse than expected record loss for airline carriers, saying the industry will lose a total of $157 billion in 2020 and 2021. This would be five times larger than the deficit built up during the 2008 financial crisis. 

During the “devastating and unrelenting” crisis, the trade group said although airlines have cut costs by about 46%, revenues are down 60%.

A major consequence is that they will “lose $66 for every passenger carried this year,” IATA said.

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The forecast is in spite of an expectation of further federal relief for the sector. Airlines have been especially hard-hit because their very business relies on proximity among people — one of the greatest risks of the year. Carriers began laying off tens of thousands of workers last month to cut costs and weather the slowdown in travel.

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“The history books will record 2020 as the industry’s worst financial year, bar none,” Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO said in a statement. “Airlines cut expenses by an average of a billion dollars a day over 2020 and will still rack-up unprecedented losses.”

Airlines won’t return to profitability until the fourth quarter of 2021, assuming that there will be a wide reopening of borders and vaccine availability, IATA predicted.

There could also be a billion more travelers next year, with the number of passengers expected to grow to 2.8 billion in 2021. However, passenger volumes may not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024.

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