Global aviation loss could hit $252b, but Chinese domestic flights see recovery
Published: Mar 25, 2020 05:39 AM

A Spring Airlines flight takes off from an airport in Shijiazhuang, North China's Hebei Province. Photo: cnsphoto

Global aviation is still in a dark tunnel, and there is no clear sign as to when it will see the light as the epidemic spreads to more countries around the world, and insiders warn that it could see airlines run out of money before there's a recovery.

But the Chinese domestic market is now in recovery and is offering confidence to the global aviation industry.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) Tuesday updated its analysis of the revenue impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the global air transport industry, and now estimates that industry passenger revenues could plummet $252 billion, or 44 percent below 2019's figure.

The prediction is made in a scenario in which severe travel restrictions last for up to three months, followed by a gradual economic recovery later this year.

IATA earlier predicted up to a $113 billion revenue loss, before countries around the world introduced sweeping travel restrictions that largely eliminated international air travel.

"The airline industry faces its gravest crisis. Within a matter of a few weeks, our previous worst-case scenario is looking better than our latest estimates. But without immediate government relief measures, there will not be an industry left standing," Alexandre de Juniac warned.

In a few weeks, the industry has reached the edge of a cliff and the bad news hasn't stopped.

Flight cancellations hit almost 20,000 globally by Monday, more than 30 airlines from countries such as Australia, Poland and even in Africa have grounded all international flights. Boeing shares are down by nearly 70 percent year to date, and GE Aviation even said it will lay off 10 percent of its US workforce.

Etihad Airways said Monday it has joined Emirates in suspending all flights in response to government coronavirus restrictions affecting inbound, outbound and transit passenger flow in the United Arab Emirates.

With the rapid spread of the virus globally, at least 31 countries and regions have adopted entry restrictions, which is a devastating blow to the global aviation industry. Alexandre de Juniac from IATA said this crisis is far worse than 9/11.

Airlines will run out of cash before the recovery arrives and typical airlines had two months of cash at the start of this year, according to IATA.

Aviation and travel market intelligence provider CAPA even warned that most of the world's airlines may face bankruptcy by May, if there has been no support from governments by then.

But the good news is that there are more countries taking measures to save the hemorrhaging industry, and China domestic air travel has shown signs of a turning point, as passenger yields stabilize in China's domestic market.

In the first two weeks of February, the passenger yield in China's domestic market was still in a negative growth of about 25 percent, but quickly rose to about negative 15 percent in the last two weeks of February, then jumped to a positive growth in the first two weeks of March, IATA data showed.

Traveler intelligence provider, Adara, has picked up on a new upward trend in data relating to Chinese travel in an analysis published on Saturday, according to

The number of unique travelers searching for flights to China declined during three weeks in February to only one-third the number that was seen in early-January. In the past two weeks, Adara has seen an uptick in the number of searches. Unique searches were up 29 percent for the week of March 8, compared to the week of March 1, the report said.

China has introduced a number of measures, including reductions in landing, parking and air navigation charges, as well as subsidies for airlines that continue to mount flights to the country.

On Tuesday, the government said it will support carriers to increase international cargo flight capacity, stabilize supply chains and encourage air cargo firms and logistics companies to jointly restructure.