How will the air industry recover from coronavirus?

  • By Production Journalist Wedaeli Chibelushi

On Friday morning, Ryanair announced it expects to cut 3,000 jobs from its workforce.

The day before, British Airways said it may not return to Gatwick Airport after coronavirus restrictions are lifted.

Covid-19 has devastated the industry; huge chunks have been shuttered and Europe has suffered a 90 percent collapse in air traffic.

With many governments still warning against non-essential travel, things won’t drastically improve anytime soon.

However, companies and industry bodies have begun to look further than immediate prospects.

IAG (parent company of Aer Lingus and British Airways) expects its passenger demand will take “several years” for it to drop to 2019 level, while The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is hosting events for governments and stakeholders to discuss restarting the industry.

Two widely-asked questions they’ll likely try to answer: when will the airline industry recover and will it ever look like it once did?

As many governments warn against non-essential travel, the airline industry will not improve quickly. Credit: AP

There can be no precise answers, according to David Learmount, an Consulting Editor at

“What ‘back to business’ means for the airlines is unknown in quantity,” he explained.

“How quickly will people want to go back to their old ways of doing things? Will it start as a trickle or a rush?”.

Industry bodies echo this point, insisting passengers (who make up the vast majority of airline revenue) need to feel confident enough to fly once travel restrictions are lifted.

EasyJet has suggested that when it resumes flights, it could leave middle seats empty as a social distancing measure.

However, on Friday Heathrow airport’s chief executivesaid social distancing at airports was physically impossible and that reducing capacities on flights by more than 50% would mean “prices would shoot up”.

When travel restrictions lift, some people and businesses will not have the disposable income they had pre-Covid.

They may struggle to pay for expensive tickets, whether the price hike is caused by reduced capacity or airlines needing to recover losses.

Conversely, companies might introduce competitive rates to attract sorely needed customers.

Operational and logistical factors will also come into play.

For example, airlines will need to ensure staff have valid qualifications when travel restrictions are lifted.

Pilots must regularly fly or use a simulator to maintain their credentials, for instance.

Engineers and various other vital employees also have time-limited certificates.

A flight simulator of the likes used by airline pilots Credit: PA

Industry bodies have also expressed the need for global unity when restarting the market.

IATA said worldwide standards with mutual recognition are “essential”, while Robert Griggs from trade body Airlines UK said his organisation hopes countries examine revival challenges "as consistently as possible”.

Mr Griggs also said strong government support will quicken the industry’s recovery.

“The Chancellor has said airlines can come to the government, for example, if there is no lending facility available to them for whatever reason and they are at the end of their tether,” he said.

“That’s good, but if we want to get back to where we were before, we will need additional support.”

IATA pushed further, saying Europe’s governments “must move quickly” to lessen economic damage and among their first priorities “should be direct financial support, loans and tax relief to airlines”.

It added that a successful restart to the industry is crucial. It’s an industry-wide consensus, but harder to agree on, are predicted timescales and methods.

“Eventual revival is certain.” Mr Leamount summarised.

“It just depends on how long it takes to get back to that and who will be there to see it”.

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know