Air travel will never return to the way it was before Covid-19, one of the industry’s leading figures, Ireland’s Willie Walsh, predicted Tuesday.
Mr. Walsh has just retired as Managing Director of International Airlines’ Group (IAG), owner of Aer Lingus, British Airways and Iberia and Vueling in Spain.
“I don’t see the industry ever going back to the way it was, because there are so many repairs to be done,” Dubliner said Tuesday.
He argued that this extended even to airlines which received billions of euros in aid from the governments of EU member states.
Mr. Walsh explained that most of the aid was either direct government loans or commercial debt guarantees.
He stressed that the loans will have to be repaid, so airlines will have to manage their balance sheets very carefully after the Covid-19 crisis.
Mr Walsh was speaking in an interview given at an online seminar organized by Eurocontrol, the organization of European air traffic control agencies.
He said the current crisis, which has stranded airlines for two months and left most flights at around half capacity, was the worst the industry has seen.
“You’re not going to get back to the same level of growth for some time,” he said.
“The decommissioned planes are going to be decommissioned for good, I don’t see anyone rushing to order more.”
Mr. Walsh acknowledged that some airlines could take advantage of the situation.
He noted that Ryanair chief Michael O’Leary exploited a slump in demand for planes in 2001 when the industry stalled following terrorist attacks in New York.
“I have no doubt that he is planning to do the same thing again, there will be a few who manage to take advantage of it,” Walsh observed.
He also predicted that weaker airlines would go bankrupt due to the crisis, accelerating industry consolidation.
Mr Walsh said government restrictions, which primarily require travelers between countries to self-quarantine, have blocked the resumption of aviation after the crisis.
He stressed that people were not reluctant to fly and were comfortable on planes.
“What makes them uncomfortable is the uncertainty as to whether they will need to be quarantined when they arrive at their destination or when they return.”
Mr Walsh has called the Republic’s travel restrictions the most extreme in the EU. “They effectively closed the island,” he says.
Likewise, he described the UK’s approach as chaotic, introducing, removing and reintroducing quarantines for various destinations.
Mr. Walsh is one of the best known personalities in European aviation. He started his career as a pilot at Aer Lingus. He then joined the management of the airline, eventually taking the post of managing director.
Mr Walsh left the Irish airline to take on the same role at British Airways, as he merged the British airline with Iberia, creating IAG.
The group then bought Vueling and in 2015 took over Aer Lingus. Luis Gallego succeeded him as Managing Director of IAG.