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As virus cases spike, financial outlook for world’s airlines dims

With coronavirus cases spiking in the US and Europe, the financial outlook of the world’s airlines is getting worse.

Airlines will lose more than USD 157 billion over this year and next because of the pandemic, their main trade group said on Tuesday.

The forecast from the International Air Transport Association was worse than the group’s June estimate of USD 100 billion in losses for the two years. The latest estimate breaks down to airlines losing USD 66 for every passenger carried this year.

However, the trade group now sees a quicker recovery. It said airlines will begin taking in more cash than they spend in the fourth quarter of 2021, earlier than it had previously forecast, on the belief that travel will increase as COVID-19 vaccines becomes available.

US airline stocks rose Tuesday on further encouraging news about vaccines. But industry officials are pressuring governments around the world to move more quickly by lifting travel restrictions for passengers who test negative for the new coronavirus.

We cannot wait for the vaccine that will not be fully available before mid-2021, said the trade group’s chief, Alexandre de Juniac. We need testing in the meantime.

Lufthansa Chairman and CEO Carsten Spohr called passenger testing a bridge toward the vaccination of travellers.

Airlines and airports have launched trial testing programs in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and elsewhere. It is unclear, however, whether test results will ever replace quarantines and other restrictions.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said that once vaccines are widely available, the Australian carrier will likely require cross-border travellers to show proof of vaccination.

Last year, airlines carried 4.5 billion passengers, according to the trade group. It estimates that number will plunge to 1.8 billion this year, then rise to 2.8 billion next year.

Passenger revenue is expected to decline 69 per cent this year, but cargo loads are expected to rise next year partly from the shipment of vaccines.

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