WHAT’S THE ISSUE?
As COVID-19 grounded international travel, commercial airlines knew they would have a turbulent time ahead, and as restrictions continue between the borders of countries, the situation is still up in the air.
The aviation industry measures its performance by revenues per passenger-kilometre, and this - according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) – nosedived 66% last year, compared to 2019. Airlines are expected to lose around 48 billion U.S. dollars this year alone, with final estimates only growing.
IATA’s figures also show that airlines are struggling despite having cut back on costs, reduced their fleets and taken on commercial loans. But for some parts of the world where infection rates are low, change is in the air - large Chinese and US firms are said to be brimming with confidence.
A hunger for travel is undoubtable, but with the sector in hundreds of billions of dollars of debt, there is concern many airlines will be unable to stay for the long-haul to see their profits ascend once again.
To get the answers, The Agenda’s Stephen Cole meets IATA’s Director General, Willie Walsh - a man with more than four decades of experience and an unrivalled knowledge of the sector – to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing the airline industry in a post-pandemic world, as well as find out what’s taking off on the green runway to sustainable air travel.
MEET THE EXPERT
Willie Walsh is Director General of the International Air Transport Association (IATA). He’s also the former CEO of the International Airlines Group (IAG), as well as former CEO of two major airlines; British Airways and Aer Lingus.
Mr Walsh began his aviation journey aged just 17 when he became a cadet pilot at Ireland’s Aer Lingus in 1979, eventually becoming a captain in 1990. He soon rose through the ranks and was appointed Chief Executive of its Spanish charter airline Futura in 1998, before becoming CEO of Aer Lingus in 2000. This soon became a time of great financial struggle after the 9/11 terror attacks the following year, which led Willie Walsh to lead radical restructuring and eventually returning it to a profit-making airline.
Willie Walsh faced further economic turmoil after being appointed Chief Executive of British Airways (BA) in 2005, when the 2008/09 Global Financial Crisis hit. He went on to serve as Chief Executive of the International Airlines Group (IAG).
Despite his retirement plans in 2020, he decided to offer his experience to help steer the aviation industry through the turbulence of the covid pandemic, taking up the position of Director General at IATA, promising a more resilient and sustainable outlook for the sector.
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