Inside Logistics

Airline industry expects shrinking losses in 2022

Expected to decline to US$11.6 billion in 2022 after a $51.8 billion loss in 2021


Air Canada reconfigured the cabins of three Boeing 777-300ER aircraft to create additional cargo capacity. (Image: Air Canada)

October 6, 2021
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Airline industry losses are expected to decline to US$11.6 billion in 2022 after a $51.8 billion loss in 2021 (worsened from the $47.7 billion loss estimated in April).

Net 2020 loss estimates have been revised to $137.7 billion (from $126.4 billion). Adding these up, total industry losses in 2020-2022 are expected to reach $201 billion.

These latest figures come from the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) latest outlook for airline industry financial performance.

Demand, measured in revenue passenger kilometres (RPKs), is expected to stand at 40 percent of 2019 levels for 2021, rising to 61 percent in 2022.

Robust demand for air cargo is expected to continue with 2021 demand at 7.9 percent above 2019 levels, growing to 13.2 percent above 2019 levels for 2022.

“The magnitude of the COVID-19 crisis for airlines is enormous. Over the 2020-2022 period total losses could top $200 billion,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General.

“To survive airlines have dramatically cut costs and adapted their business to whatever opportunities were available. That will see the $137.7 billion loss of 2020 reduce to $52 billion this year. And that will further reduce to $12 billion in 2022. We are well past the deepest point of the crisis. While serious issues remain, the path to recovery is coming into view. Aviation is demonstrating its resilience yet again.”

The air cargo business is performing well, and domestic travel will near pre-crisis levels in 2022. The challenge is international markets which remain severely depressed as government-imposed restrictions continue.

Cargo demand, measured in cargo tonne kilometres (CTK), is strong as companies continue to re-stock. The World Trade Organization forecasts world trade to grow at 9.5 percent in 2021 and 5.6 percent in 2022. In 2021 cargo demand is expected to exceed pre-crisis (2019) levels by eight percent. In 2022 cargo demand is expected to exceed pre-crisis (2019) levels by 13 percent.

Travel restrictions

“People have not lost their desire to travel as we see in solid domestic market resilience. But they are being held back from international travel by restrictions, uncertainty and complexity. More governments are seeing vaccinations as a way out of this crisis. We fully agree that vaccinated people should not have their freedom of movement limited in any way. In fact, the freedom to travel is a good incentive for more people to be vaccinated. Governments must work together and do everything in their power to ensure that vaccines are available to anybody who wants them,” said Walsh.

Re-establishing global connectivity, the 11.3 million jobs (pre-COVID-19) in the aviation industry, and the $3.5 trillion of GDP associated with travel and tourism should be priorities for governments.

“Aviation is resilient and resourceful, but the scale of this crisis needs solutions that only governments can provide. Financial support was a lifeline for many airlines during the crisis. Much of that—approximately $110 billion— is in the form of support that needs to be paid back. Combined with commercial borrowing the industry is now highly leveraged. We don’t want handouts, but wage support measures to retain critical skills may be necessary for some airlines until governments enable international travel at scale. And regulatory alleviations—like continued slot wavers while international traffic recovers—will be needed well into 2022,” said Walsh.